Remember what it was like to be small? To be in the backyard, no dinging cell phone, no notifications, no calendars, no to-do lists. 

Remember what it was like before you grew up and your backyard became a chore? 

Back when time was slow, when there was no “yesterday” and no “later on”—just this moment, scanning the ground for rocks, noticing the flecks of glistening white in this one, the smooth, slate gray of that one. 

Back then, you picked them up, rinsed them, put them in your pocket for your collection. 

Now, you pick them up and throw them out of the way so they don’t mess up your lawnmower.

But what if you could go back?

Naturalist for You: A Nonprofit Keeping Us Connected With Nature

In study after study, stepping away from the screens and connecting with nature has been proven to relieve anxiety and depression by returning us to those still, mindful moments in childhood when the small things were big, and those big things asked nothing of us.

That alone—even if you aren’t the outdoorsy type—should highlight the critical importance of nonprofits like Naturalist for You, a California-based organization whose mission is simple yet far-reaching: get people outside.

What is Naturalist for You?

Naturalist for You, founded in 2006, is a nonprofit working out of Southern California that connects people with natural resources in their communities. The organization accomplishes this in countless ways—like through tours, workshops, and K-12 field trips—but ultimately, anyone wanting to explore nature can reach out to the nonprofit for direction and guidance. 

Volunteers are the lifeblood of Naturalist for You, serving as everything from local ecology experts to tour guides, art therapists, and teachers. While the bulk of volunteers are working out of Southern California, you can find others scattered throughout the country. You can even volunteer to start a Naturalist for You group in your own community.

Acorn Milling Naturalist For You
An acorn milling expedition with director Joel Robinson. Photo from Kate Purdy.

What Does Naturalist for You Do?

Naturalist for You gets people of all ages outside. More specifically, through a variety of programming, they teach people how to appreciate the outdoors in the hopes that long-term,  they’ll be inspired to care for and preserve nature around them, understand the importance of it, and even take steps to help fight climate change. 

The priority, however, is the people: Naturalist for You volunteers want to make our society a happier, healthier place by ensuring the joy of outdoor discovery will always be a part of our everyday lives.

Part of how they do this is through ongoing, ever-evolving programs like guided tours, workshops, retreats, and school field trips.  

The programs available depend on the community your volunteer naturalists are working in, but some topics participants might learn about include: 

  • Plants and wildlife/ecology/watersheds/home landscape biosurveys
  • Habitat restoration/holistic resource management/permaculture
  • Storytelling/living history/folk music
  • Foraging/primitive skills/sustainable living 

Each session is matched to the interests of the participants, whether they want to learn how to hike, climb trees safely (great for kids!), learn about birding, learn survival skills, or just have fun outside playing music and telling stories.  

Naturalist for You wants to help people feel healthier all around, not just to help make a dent in relieving Americans’ chronic and increasing stress, but to help us feel energized enough to take action on behalf of our environment and local communities.

Founder Joel Robinson uses Naturalist for You to emphasize the importance of connecting with natural resources for a host of reasons, almost all of which have a ripple effect on our communities. 

Acorn Milling Naturalist for You with Dog
Acorn milling: Photo from Katy Purdy

“Joel [Director] has led us on foraging expeditions that ended in pizza parties and acorn milling workshops that ended in baked bread. He’s always a delight and full of knowledge and a fun teacher – and in the end there’s often food!”

–Kate Purdy, Program Participant

For example, on average, kids ages 8-18 now spend 7.5 hours in front of a screen for entertainment each day, while the CDC recommends kids get at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily. Getting outside is a great way to get moving, but it’s hard when you don’t know where to go, or better yet—what to do once you’re out there.

Naturalist for You’s programs and tours show kids and adults alike what’s out there, making nature an exciting place we want to go back to again and again, thereby limiting our daily amount of screen exposure, and replacing it with the physical activity inherent in outdoor exploration. 

Julia Markey Naturalist For You
[Above] Since 2017, Julia Markey has been focused on education, sharing her knowledge (and photography) with the Naturalist for You community, and keeping the nonprofit’s social media feeds updated. Prior to that, Julia led dozens of Naturalist for You hikes where she taught participants about birding. 

“It’s extremely important to me that all people have access to science. Including (and especially) members of vulnerable groups.”

Julia Markey

One of the unique parts about learning with Naturalist for You is the hands-on approach that instructors encourage. Unlike a trip to a museum or showcase, you don’t have to keep your hands behind your back and inspect from behind a rope. Instead, participants are encouraged to interact with their surroundings. 

long jawed orbweaver naturalist for you nonprofit
Orbweaver. Photo by Julia Markey.

How to Donate to Naturalist for You

  1. Make a donation directly through the Naturalist for You website.
  2. Or by shopping and donating your cash back using Giving Assistant

How do your donations help? Just $20 can help put gas in a volunteer’s car so they can make it to a tour, buy lunch for tour participants, or purchase a field guide to help them identify more wildlife. Annual park passes often cost less than $100 per year, making it possible for volunteers to take explorers to locations they may not otherwise get to see. 

How to Volunteer for Naturalist for You

  1. You can easily start your own Naturalist for You group wherever you live. Learn more by connecting with director Joel Robinson at jrobinson@naturalist-for-you.org.
  2. Naturalist for You is also currently recruiting new volunteers in their already-established California locations to help with tour programs, online marketing, and general outreach. Those wishing to learn more should feel free to connect with the director or one of the naturalists on their website.
  3. Check the Naturalist for You calendar for upcoming events and scheduling availability.

What is Giving Assistant? 

Giving Assistant helps online shoppers turn their everyday shopping into donations for any nonprofit. 

Members get exclusive coupons and savings at over 3,000 top online brands, plus earn cash back they can donate easily to any nonprofit organization in the U.S. 

Our browser extension makes the whole thing even easier: just download it for free, then shop, save, and automate your cash back donations.