Red Rock Canyon inspires at-risk teens to follow their dreams.
Nearly 13,000 students in the Clark County School District are referred to the Department of Juvenile Justice Services in a typical year. And half of those had a prior record, with most involving a felony or gross misdemeanor – often involving gang activity.
It’s a dismal picture that has motivated the Las Vegas Police Department to focus an increasing amount of resources and personnel to reach those in their early teens – and younger – before they step over the line into criminality and become one of nearly 12,000 gang members in the city .
“By engaging with youth in our community, it develops a trusting relationship. We can help kids make better choices to stay out of trouble and reduce juvenile crime,” explains Officer Glen Taylor of the department’s Office of Community Engagement.
Taylor oversees the Police Athletic League, working with scores of youth across a spectrum of sports including basketball, boxing and tennis. Now he and fellow officer Arnold Parker are leading a novel partnership with Friends of Red Rock Canyon and the Summerlin Rotary Club.
It’s called Outdoor Adventures, and for its inaugural school year, 12 young teens – six boys and six girls – have been chosen to participate in a series of nature hikes as well as work projects at Red Rock, including canyon cleanups, light-trail maintenance and graffiti removal.
“These teens may look up and see the Red Rocks in the distance, but they have no understanding, or even the imagination, to appreciate their natural wonder,” said Taylor. “We believe that exposing them to their beauty will widen horizons, while the work projects will teach them about teamwork and enhance their self-esteem.”
If the teens’ first weekend at Red Rock is any indication, Taylor’s aspiration will become reality.
Led by board members of Friends of Red Rock Canyon along with Taylor and Parker, the teens hiked along Discovery Trail and encountered a waterfall, along the way learning about the many varieties of cacti and viewing petroglyphs – remnants of ancient peoples who once lived there.
They hiked in brand new boots provided by REI as well as shirts, water bottles, knapsacks and other safety equipment financed by Friends, with a generous grant from the Summerlin Rotary Foundation.
The teens enjoyed both breakfast and a picnic lunch along the way. “That’s no small thing,” emphasized Taylor. “These kids miss many meals and almost surely depend on reduced price meals when they are at school.” Nearly 70 percent of all students in Las Vegas qualify for subsidized meals.
Outdoor Adventures is a wonderful new initiative that is bound to alter the arc of these teens’ lives,” said Mike Levy, Summerlin Rotary’s president. “The club is very proud to participate. We already have a wonderful relationship with the Las Vegas Police Department, including our long commitment to cleaning Police Memorial Park, including landscaping and plantings.
Taylor, a 23-year police veteran, has lived in Las Vegas for 48 years. Parker was born and raised in the city.
“We are personally invested and committed to these young men and women, along with hundreds of others participating in PAL,” said Taylor. “We see the results of our work and the impact it has on their families, who are more inclined to trust law enforcement in their community.
“While PAL creates consistency in these teens’ lives and creates incentives to succeed in life, Outdoor Adventures goes beyond that because we are exposing them to a world they might never see or experience,” said Taylor.
“Some of the teens we accompanied at Red Rock never saw a cactus up close. They never encountered the kind of quiet they experienced along the trail,” he observed.
“They were meeting new people that are not ordinarily a part of their lives,” noted Rob Tuvell, a local Realtor and Friends’ board member who is liaison with the police department. “And we too were meeting and getting to know young people we might otherwise never meet.”
Taylor measures success of the department’s Community Engagement office by the number of at-risk youths that eventually attend college, enter the military and even join the police department.
But, to reach such heights, it takes a combination of experiences like Outdoor Adventures and mentors willing to contribute their experience and compassion.
“Not only was our first weekend adventure amazing because of such beautiful nature, but we also watched our youth socialize with each other as well as people they never met before,” he explained.
“Interacting with natural environments allows children to learn by doing and experiment with ideas. Plus being outside feels good. Being in nature enables children to run, jump, hop, skip, climb, roll, and shout, which relaxes, and reduces tension, anxiety, and restlessness.
“Researchers have found that outdoor play calms children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, which many of our kids have,” noted Taylor. “Nature enhances a sense of peace, and often brings out nurturing qualities in children. Often, when involved in the nature, even boisterous, active children may slow down and learn to focus on being gentle.”
“After a succession of similar weekends running through next May, we truly hope they will have a far deeper appreciation of nature – and understand that their worlds can be so much bigger than the ones they have at home.”
The police department is very excited about the potential of Outdoor Adventures growing exponentially.
“We have the capacity to recruit many kids. But, it takes about $150 per youngster to equip them safely for hiking and working in Red Rock Canyon. That’s why we are so encouraged by the partnership with Friends and Rotary,” he said.