Turning Tampa Bay Kids from iPhones to Archery
“Nature is a tool to get children to experience not just the wider world, but themselves.” – Stephen Moss
Cloud Nine Outdoors (CNO) founder Jovan McNeill lives this quote every day, working to bring life-changing outdoor experiences to youth in the Tampa Bay Area.
McNeill comes from a long line of anglers. His great-grandmother taught his mother how to cast her lines and reel in her catches. She passed these skills on to her son, taking him to Gandy and Morris Bridges once a month to connect and catch some fish. In the busyness of a single-parent household, that time together was invaluable. McNeill wanted to share those formative experiences with others, giving kids a chance to put down their phones and bond with their families and nature. Through CNO he is doing just that.
CNO offers a variety of programs covering fishing, archery, hunting, and camping skills. “Our program is the intersection of mentorship, education, and the outdoors,” said McNeill. CNO works with inner-city youth, many of whom live surrounded by the water of Tampa Bay but have never picked up a fishing pole or been on a boat. “It’s hard to put into words the expression on their face when they catch their first fish or choose archery over iPhones.” The organization is young but has already achieved great results. In its first four years of operation, CNO introduced 682 youth to fishing, archery, and hunting.
In addition to giving children new experiences, McNeill is creating a generation of outdoor recreation and conservation advocates. CNO’s programs incorporate animal identification, game species anatomy, and environmental stewardship. It also gives kids a source of consistency; they stay with CNO leaders throughout the year, year after year. While teaching a love of nature, leaders also impart life skills. Their participants have a 100% graduation rate, and all have gone on to college or trade schools with scholarships from CNO.
Last year, the Foundation awarded CNO a $4,920 grant for monthly archery and hunting programs aimed at women and minority youth. Each participant spends two days at a shooting range and then takes their skills into the woods on a wild hog hunt. Successful hunters learn how to process their game.
“Cloud Nine Outdoors perfectly aligns with our mission,” said Foundation President & CEO Andrew Walker. “We are committed to introducing the joys of outdoor recreation to new audiences. We are excited to watch this new partnership flourish.”
To support great outdoor education programs like Cloud Nine Outdoors, purchase our Wildlife Foundation of Florida license plate online!