Back to Nature
Through good, old-fashioned outdoor fun, Coastal Carolina Outreach helps improve the health and well-being of kids and teens.
Are you of a certain age where you have fond childhood memories of playing outdoors with school friends or family from sunup to sundown? Riding bikes, hiking trails, creating adventures in which your mind and your bodies could run carefree?
Carrie and Brian Higgins are. That’s why they started their new nonprofit, Coastal Carolina Outreach.
While they admit the world isn’t the same as when they were kids, they know that being outside still has the same value. Studies show that kids who play outside are more likely to develop better cognitively and physically. Not only does being active outdoors challenge kids’ physical endurance, but also “it has the ability to inspire, calm, rejuvenate, connect and bring a person into the present,” Carrie says.
In 2018 the couple purchased nearly 20 acres in Ash, North Carolina, with the idea of giving their children a safe, inviting space to experience nature.
“We had this idea to raise free-range children,” Carrie says.
The couple met in 2015 and found they had mutual commitments to family, faith and an inner drive to help others, especially kids. Carrie taught at the elementary level for more than 15 years, and Brian, a Navy veteran and former detective with Ocean Isle Beach Police Department, has opened his home to numerous foster children in addition to adopting children.
Combined, Carrie and Brian have nine children. Brian has six children, five of whom are adopted and one biological child. Carrie has two biological children. They have another child they call a “daughter by choice.” Though she’s not legally their child, they provide the love, guidance and support she needs but wasn’t otherwise getting. They also have three grandchildren.
Last spring Carrie made the decision to leave her teaching career to stay home and help address the health difficulties of two of their children.
“It hit us hard when some of our kids began struggling with mental health,” Carrie says. “Besides traditional routes, we were looking for ways to help keep our kids stay healthy.”
With the idea of providing “good, old-fashioned outdoor fun,” their nonprofit was born.
Coastal Carolina Outreach’s mission is to improve the overall well-being and mental health of kids and teens in our community through nature, connection, art and education.
The idea for Coastal Carolina Outreach began even ahead of COVID. Carrie and Brian watched as their own children were spending more time indoors on their smartphones and less time being active outside.
The goal was to introduce simple programs like hiking, fishing, archery, camping, horseshoes, gardening and arts and crafts that could bring a sense of joy back into the lives of kids.
“During the pandemic, Carrie and I were able to get more of a direction on which groups of kids we wanted to focus our time and energy on, and who would get the most use of our programs,” Brian says. “My original thought was teenagers, but the need is there for everyone.”
Summers are great for some families who can afford to send their children off to camp. But for kids who are stuck at home during their summer vacations, their time isn’t always spent in meaningful ways.
“Regardless of a family’s financial situation, we want to provide youth in the area access to programs that can help improve the well-being and mental health of kids and teens,” Carrie says.
Still in its infancy, Coastal Carolina Outreach launched its first program in April 2022. Called Hope Rocks, it is designed to help teen girls learn healthy ways to cope with the stress and struggles of life, giving them the opportunity to build positive relationships with their peers. Carrie, who has a master’s degree in curriculum, instruction and supervision and is a certified group life coach, plans to add Hope Rocks II later this year, the next step for the girls who completed the first program. The Hope Rocks fall session will begin September 12, 2022.
Coastal Carolina Outreach’s next program, Fly True Archery clinics and club, will begin in the fall of 2022 and is open to all teens ages 12 to 17. They envision having open times that kids can come and practice with adult supervision.
While Carrie is focusing on the programming, Brian enjoys spending time outside preparing the property. Plans for 2022 into 2023 include creating a space for events, the archery range and building picnic tables and benches.
“Our plan is to create different nature trails where kids can walk through and identify the different types of trees and plants,” Brian says. “We’re also working on raised garden beds and a sunflower garden. We just want to create a space where people can enjoy the simple pleasures in life and get back to nature.”
Additionally, Carrie and Brian are working on a camping site complete with a campfire ring and seating. They want to create a space for kids who don’t normally get to go camping, particularly for foster families.
“It’s tough to be able to get away and do a lot of things that are within the constraints of foster care,” Brian says. “We’ll provide the space, the equipment and the food for these families so they can experience being outdoors and spend quality time.”
As for what Carrie and Brian envision for the future, they have some wonderful ideas they would like to see come to fruition, including a fishing pond and playground equipment including tree swings, balance beams and large rocks to climb on. They are planning a carnivorous plant garden and an indoor structure for meetings and groups.
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Photography by Bill Ritenour