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Passport Oregon aims to share our state's beauty
Kevin Frazier remembers his youth, growing up near Scholls Ferry Road along the Beaverton-Tigard border.
A 2012 graduate of Southridge High School, Frazier roamed the halls of Southridge like so many others. He spent time with friends and classmates at Washington Square. He enjoyed movies and played the occasional video game.
But there was much more to his life than that.
He also remembers weekend and summer travels with his family, the 330-mile drives to Joseph in Eastern Oregon, the summer trips to Sunriver in Central Oregon and more.
He remembers the wonder of seeing, and spending time in, different environments. He remembers how the air felt different and the sky looked different, and he was energized by those differences.
Now, Frazier wants to share that wonder with others.
Frazier, who graduated from the University of Oregon in 2015 and now works as an executive assistant to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, started the nonprofit Passport Oregon in March and the group received its 501c(3) status in June.
In brief, Passport Oregon wants to share Oregon in all its beauty, diversity and enormity with Oregon kids who might not otherwise be able to experience the natural wonders of the Oregon Coast, the Columbia Gorge or Smith Rock.
Frazier, 22, said the genesis of the idea came to him when he was in college and served as a mentor to a student at Spencer Butte Middle School in Eugene.
Every time Id see him, wed talk about what he did over the weekend, Frazier recalled, noting that the boys answers were almost always the same TV, movies and video games. I realized there was a gap between what we as Oregonians considered ourselves outdoorsy, adventurous and what was real.
But Frazier also felt that, right from the start, there was something he could do about it. After starting Passport Oregon along with friends Kyle Thayer (he serves as Passport Oregons communications director), Brittney Guzzi (a fundraising team member), Alex Hatch (Passports trip coordinator) and his older brother Paul Frazier (the nonprofits chief operating officer) they got busy formulating plans that have come to fruition this school year.
Already on tour
Their first cohort a group of eight fourth- and fifth-graders from Southeast Portlands Creston neighborhood took its first trip to Mount Hood back on Sept. 17 and has future outings scheduled for the Columbia River Gorge (Oct. 1), the Oregon Coast (Oct. 15) and to Eugene (Nov. 5) for nature hikes and a tour of the University of Oregon campus. Before the end of the school year, Passport Oregon will have taken the kids from Creston on nine separate outings.
We said this isnt that difficult to solve, but its important to give kids a sense of place, Kevin Frazier said. We want to give kids a chance to explore the natural world.
I personally spent a lot of time with my family when I was younger experiencing the Columbia River Gorge and the locations it has to offer, Thayer said. I am ecstatic to share that opportunity with others.
Kevin Frazier, Thayer and their fellow Passport Oregon volunteers none of them are paid for their efforts agreed with his sense of mission and shared similar experiences.
A lot of my childhood and favorite memories were actually formed as a result of trips I've taken to a lot of these locations we are going to with these kids, Guzzi said. I am involved because I want to share those places with them and hopefully inspire the same kind of appreciation I now have for adventure and Oregon's outdoors.
Kevin and I had long discussed doing something to try to make our state a better place, Hatch said. The one idea that we kept coming back to was the idea of doing something to get children to experience the extraordinary plethora of treasures that Oregon has to offer.
The three 'Es'
Kevin Frazier explained that Passport Oregons three Es experience, education and empowerment serve as the groups guiding principle, adding that, on their outings, they not only explore Oregons natural wonders, they learn about them too, taking advantage of the expertise of park rangers, educators at museums and more.
Already, with just one trip under their belt, Passport Oregons volunteers are already feeling the impact their group is having.
"One of the students on our trip (to Mt. Hood) told me that she had never been on a hike before so the whole day seemed pretty special for her, Guzzi said. At one point, she was playing by Trillium Lake and watching the ducks and picking up salamanders and was talking about it to all of her classmates it was awesome to see that comfortability and enthusiasm for nature progress throughout the day."
On our hike around Trillium Lake, I was excited to see that one of the kids, Olivia, who earlier in the day had seemed quiet and reserved, was eager to be the one leading the hike around the lake, Hatch said. Her enthusiasm was confirmed later in the day after we arrived back at the school, as I watched her excitedly tell her parent about how much she had learned and how much she had enjoyed herself. It was great to see one of the kids confirm that what we were doing was worthwhile.
Creating a habit
Key to Passport Oregons mission is making the experience of nature spending time outside, enjoying the beauty of Oregon a habit for the kids and families they work with. To achieve that end, the group brings one or two parents along on each of its trips, schedules one family hike for the children and all their parents, and works to teach parents about nature opportunities in and close to their own neighborhoods.
It doesnt have to cost a lot or mean driving an hour and a half to get there, Kevin Frazier said. Its exciting because were setting a pattern of making nature a norm in their lives.
In the future, Passport Oregons organizers hope to work with multiple groups each year, add overnight trips to their offerings, expand their list of sites to include sites such as Crater Lake, the Painted Hills and Wallowa Mountains, and to include groups from other parts of the state.
To accomplish those goals, Passport Oregon needs to continue and expand its success in raising funds. Because its staff is completely comprised of volunteers, all donations will go toward expenses such as gasoline, museum entrance fees, food and insurance.
Its a valuable lifeskill to be thrown into the unknown, Kevin Frazier said. It speaks to the power of seeing the unfamiliar.