Stop and Smell the Roses


On a sunny day in April, at a pleasant 68 degrees Fahrenheit, two Cleveland Metroparks vans filled with ASIA’s Community Adult Mentorship (CAM) students pulled into the parking lot of Rocky River Nature Reserve in Cleveland, OH. It was the first day of CAM’s partnership with Cleveland Metroparks’ Youth Outdoor Program, in which once a month from April to August our CAM students will participate in outdoor activities and excursions like hiking, kayaking, and more.  

Nine students between the ages of nine and fourteen excitedly leapt out of the vans, each armed with snacks to prepare them for the afternoon ahead. Among them were Ka’Ren, Burmese, and Afghan students, all united by their energy and eagerness to explore. These students were the first to sign up for Youth Outdoor Program activities and enthusiastically followed Joe, their Cleveland Metroparks leader, in warm-up stretches and into the trails. 

“Who’s ready to hike?” he asked.  

Joe taught the students plant identification, including the ever-infamous poison ivy, which can take form as both the classic three-leaf warning and a hairy vine that grows up the trunk of trees, much to the surprise of our ASIA group. He also introduced the students to edible plants native to Ohio, such as the squirrel corn flower, pawpaw fruit, and Ohio’s only native cactus species, the prickly pear. One student spotted a small snake from afar, and Joe picked it up to introduce the kids to a wild eastern garter snake, “the most common and sweetest snake in Ohio.”  

“We want to be providing [the students] other opportunities to get out and interact with the world in ways they can’t do in school,” said Jeff Panik, manager of Children, Youth and Family Services. “And this opportunity is cool because it’s led by other people and so we can hear other voices and their expertise.”  

The students are also excited by opportunities outside of the classroom. “My favorite part of ASIA is the fields trip,” one fourth grader said, to the agreement of several others. Some of these students have participated in CAM for over three years--elementary students who are now in middle school.  

One of the students, Victoria, has been in the program since she was in fourth grade. She is now an eighth-grader and she enjoys playing Minecraft and hiking around the Cleveland Metroparks. She signed up to participate in the Youth Outdoor Programs because she likes the outdoors and is most excited to try rock climbing in future months.  

For many children of immigrant and refugee families, their childhoods are set aside to act as third parents or as interceders for their families. These students face all the challenges of adolescence, with the added burdens of navigating American culture, acting as an interpreter for their limited English proficient family members, and looking after younger siblings or the elderly when their parents are unable. After-school programs such as CAM and its Summit County counterpart, International Community Empowerment Project (ICEP), give these students a place to be simply children: mentorship, a safe place to share their worries or struggles, and the time and space to play with their friends.  

The day concluded as the best sunny days in the Metroparks do: barbecuing celebratory hot dogs over the public grills.  

To learn more about our after-school programs or to volunteer as instructors or mentors, visit the Children, Youth and Family department or email us!