A group of kids paddling a wooden canoe in Thrive Outside program
Outside Business Journal

Outdoor Foundation Expands Thrive Outside with $1.6 Million in Grants

Aimed at inspiring kids to build a lifelong relationship with the outdoors, Thrive Outside programs will launch in Missouri, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Maine

A group of kids paddling a wooden canoe in Thrive Outside program

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In 2019, Outdoor Foundation (OF), the philanthropic arm of Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), announced a new initiative called Thrive Outside. The executive director of OF at the time, Lise Aangeenbrug (who has since shifted over to lead OIA), explained the “why” of the program as such: “We didn’t become an indoor species overnight, and the decline of outdoor activity in the United States is a problem that requires collaboration, funding, and scale.”

OF’s solution to that decline was to fund four programs across the U.S.—in Atlanta, Georgia; Grand Rapids, Michigan; San Diego, California; and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma—all aimed at getting more young people outside more often. In other words, to instill the outdoor habit into communities that face barriers to access. 

Since then, Thrive Outside has facilitated outdoor connections with 16,000 kids from diverse communities through activities like hiking, paddling, climbing, and fishing. And while the pandemic presented the obvious challenges, Thrive Outside adapted and is poised for growth. 

According to Stephanie Maez, OF’s managing director since October 2020, “the Thrive Outside initiative is working to create a more inclusive and accessible outdoor experience for all.”  

This week, OF announced the expansion of the Thrive Outside program and its second cohort in the following areas: St.Louis, Missouri; the Twin Cities region, Minnesota; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and the state of Maine.  

“We are thrilled to expand our grants and programming into four additional communities this year and inspire kids and families to experience the powerful transformative benefits of connecting with nature on a regular basis, particularly among youth in diverse communities,” said Maez.

The four new communities were chosen by the Outdoor Foundation board of directors, based on written applications, virtual site visits, in-person interviews, and third-party consultant research. Each Thrive Outside grant requires the recipient community to provide a 1-to-1 funding match in order to ensure the long-term sustainability of the network. One backbone organization in each community will manage the grant and facilitate the work of the network partners. In total, this cohort will receive more than $1.6 million in grant money.

And Outdoor Foundation has no intention of stopping there. Its next goal: to expand the program to include 32 cities over the next ten years.