The nationwide America’s State Parks Ambassador Program (ASPAP) helps individuals volunteer at their favorite state parks and document their experiences through photo essays, videos and stories.
The Virginia State Park system is unique among state park systems involved in ASPAP. Other systems typically have only one or two state ambassadors. Virginia, however, has at least one ambassador per park, as well as at-large members with no relation to any particular park.
The goal of the ambassador program is to counteract environmental apathy. Technological advances, particularly social media, have made it possible for the millennial generation to lose touch with nature as never before. It is estimated that millenials spend 30 hours a week viewing a TV or other electronic screen. Most millennials spend less than an hour a week interacting with nature.
Studies show that time spent in nature boosts physical and mental well-being. As fewer people take part in outdoor recreation, however, it has become clearer that this issue needs attention. ASPAP seeks to address this by using social media to reach millennials viewing screens instead of the great outdoors... in sunshine and among great trees.
ASPAP involves millennials with Virginia State Parks by having them foster, develop and share their love for nature. Ambassadors write blogs and produce videos and photo essays and post them here. They thus advocate for the many cultural, historical and natural wonders in each park and engage peers by enthusiastically advocating the natural and cultural world. Those interested in becoming an ambassador must register here and have a recent photo of themselves to upload to the site.
Ambassadors must be between 16 and 28 and are expected to volunteer 10 hours a month at their respective park as well as post at least one blog per month. They should get to know their Virginia State Park volunteer coordinators to better understand the park's programs.
ASPAP creates a team of young leaders passionate about nature. The program exemplifies esprit de corps. Ambassadors learn to make a difference by working with peers and staff. The program gives young people the perfect chance to share their enthusiasm and passion for nature through advocacy and action. They develop confidence and a sense of belonging through involvement with the program, and they earn badges to demonstrate a deep connection with the outdoors. It's ideal for those wanting to assume leadership positions, expand their horizons and develop professional skills.
Those who fear that today's environmental apathy and technological addictions are too great to overcome should remember Margaret Mead's words:
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
And recall Martin Luther King Jr.'s words as well:
Everybody can be great... because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.
Change happens when dedicated individuals realize they can be great by serving and devoting time to a worthy cause. ASPAP allows young people to discover greatness through service and then changing the world one step at a time by simply involving more people with nature.