The San Diego Foundation: Opening the Outdoors

    Mission statement 

    The San Diego Foundation (TSDF) improves the quality of life in all of San Diego’s communities by providing leadership for effective philanthropy that builds enduring assets and by promoting community solutions through research, convenings and actions that advance the common good. Through its Environment Initiative, TSDF’s Opening the Outdoors program connects, protects, and increases access to nature across the county, prioritizing underserved and park-poor communities.

    Core focus area 

    In 2010, TSDF commissioned the Parks for Everyone report to better understand green access in the San Diego region. The report found that while 45 percent of San Diego County’s total land area is green space, many low-income, ethnically diverse communities have limited access to parks and open spaces. There was also a strong correlation between communities with high rates of childhood obesity and low park access.
    The Opening the Outdoors program was established in response to these findings and the region’s need to connect, protect, and increase access to nature across the county, especially for San Diegans in underserved and park-poor communities.

    TSDF magnifies grantees’ impact by encouraging Opening the Outdoors grant recipients to form collaborative partnerships. With over 10,000 unique nonprofit organizations in the San Diego region, resources and funding can often be spread thin. In order to create more synergy among the region’s rich network of nonprofit organizations, TSDF asks Opening the Outdoors grantseekers to form partnerships to further the impact of their work and expand their reach. While partnerships take time to cultivate and grow, many organizations are either already working together or are doing work in naturally complementary areas. Sometimes this results in an interdisciplinary approach, and unconventional partnerships may foster knowledge around policy implications and advocacy training for outdoor spaces. By further leveraging resources, expertise, and existing collaborations, these partnerships allow nonprofits to better protect, connect, and increase access to nature.

    One exemplary partnership project is Ocean Discovery Institute’s “Watershed Avengers” program from the 2015 Opening the Outdoors cohort in collaboration with San Diego Canyonlands. Ocean Discovery Institute delivers rigorous educational, scientific research, and environmental stewardship experiences that build curiosity, science understanding and skills, and leadership in underserved youth from the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego. San Diego Canyonlands protects and restores the natural habitats in San Diego County's canyons and creeks by fostering education and ongoing community involvement in stewardship and advocacy, and by collaborating with other organizations. Seeing the value in revitalizing a canyon in City Heights, these organizations combined their strengths, capacities, and community ties to create a project that furthers not only their respective missions, but overall quality of life in San Diego.

    Through this program, 1,000 4th graders from this neighborhood joined experts and volunteers to transform Manzanita Canyon from a waste-ridden alleyway cutting through the city to a vital green space and natural trail. The partnership between Ocean Discovery Institute and San Diego Canyonlands not only increases environmental stewardship through nationally-celebrated environmental education programming, it enhances the natural amenities of a local canyon through trail restoration in an incredibly park-poor neighborhood.