Casting the line to connect Portland youth to the outdoors

Today, you’re hearing from Chad Brown of Soul River Runs Deep and Team New Current Outdoors. Chad works to connect youth and veterans with nature, mostly through fly fishing and river sports.

Take a journey with me: I’m out on a river expedition fly fishing with youth from Portland, Oregon and my fellow veterans. As we’re fly tying, practicing catch and release fishing, hearing the crisp sound of the river flow, I start to see something magnificent happen. After spending time outside, we start to break through the tough layers of the adverse situations we have all been through. The layers of tough exterior start to peel away and as group, we’re becoming a family, engaged in nature. How did I get to this place, connecting youth and veterans with the outdoors?

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Chad Brown (left) leads expeditions with youth and veterans about fly fishing and other river sports.

A few chapters back in the continuing book of my life, I joined the U.S. Navy to serve, pursue my education and see the world first-hand. The experiences I had were challenging and pushed me to my limits. I struggled transitioning back into society, but I went to school to complete my education and entered the working world. It kept me busy for a while but I found myself dealing with a mental war and was diagnosed with PTSD. The next four years of my life turned into a series of heavy medication and numerous hours of therapy until one day an acquaintance crossed my path and took me fishing.

I still recall the first time I hooked in a fish. It brought me the biggest smile that I hadn’t had in so long and I felt alive again. Fly fishing became a natural medicine for me and I learned new skills to use as a coping mechanism. I made new friends on the river and would spend hours, days, and nights in fly shops, learning the art of fly tying, building fly rods, practicing how to read rivers, and ultimately learning how to be one with Mother Nature.

Soon, I realized that this is a shared gift to give others who may be struggling with something as well. I chose to cast my line away from the norm into new minds to inspire what nature has to offer. Now, as the founder and creative director of Soul River Runs Deep and the nonprofit, Team New Current Outdoors, I want to encourage the younger generation to recognize the natural world as a hip, cool place to be.

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Brian Chou, a Soul River ambassador.

In September, I got the chance to meet with Service employees and other conservation organizations at the National Conservation Training Center, where we had encouraging dialogue about how the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can reach urban audiences. As a partner, it was great to see the effort because connecting with youth in urban areas and all residents in cities to nature is critical to the future of our generation. Connecting with nature saved my life and bringing that gift to our young people in cities is something no group can do alone.

And I understand that. Bringing youth and veterans together, I call it “iron sharpening iron,” I get to see real changes happen when we’re out on river expeditions. Slowly, I see the effect that being outside has on the group; you see kids get to be kids again, and everyone having a good time, breaking down barriers that once stood. It’s a powerful transformation to see young people come out and first they are swearing and unattached, then a few hours later, everyone is getting along, asking questions, learning how to fly fish, guide a boat and white water raft. At the end of a program, I see a rough attitude that has softened with laughter because of time spent in the outdoors.

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Chad, with participants from New Current Outdoors, a nonprofit that aims to inspire youth to be outdoor ambassadors.

Connecting youth and urban communities with nature is something that cannot wait. Promoting outdoor diversity, environmental advocacy and educating city youth, inspiring them to be conscious ambassadors of the outdoors can save our world and ultimately, us.

Check out this film, Conservation. A young man goes through a transformation from his life in the city to spending time with nature. Click here>>

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