September 10 2021

Steele family service: Make volunteering a family adventure

As the saying goes, “it takes a village,” but in the case of Adventure Central, its village is built from generations of service-minded families with one goal: to see children thriving outdoors and in the classroom.

Take the Steele family, for example. Father, Sheldon Steele, 52, and his daughters, Mariah Steele, 25; Asja Steele, 18; and Keira Steele, 15, have all been involved with Adventure Central throughout the years as participants or volunteers.

Adventure Central, a youth development program that focuses on education and leadership skills using an environmental foundation, welcomes school-aged children in west Dayton to participate in free afterschool and summer programming. Children receive help with homework, daily snacks and meals, and participate in fun, educational programs.

Located at Wesleyan MetroPark, Adventure Central is a partnership between Five Rivers MetroParks, The Ohio State University Extension and 4-H Youth Development. Parents and community volunteers support its educational programming, outings, special events and more.

Sheldon Steele became familiar with the program when Mariah, then 10, was a student at Adventure Central. He began volunteering in the classroom, helping kids with homework and doing overnight camps and helping with the boys’ youth group. Sheldon, an avid outdoorsman from a small town in Wisconsin, still volunteers and often gets as much from the experience as the students do.

“Once the kids start knowing you, how can you not come around?” Sheldon asked. “They treat you like family.”

This sentiment is also felt by Sheldon’s daughters, who all look forward to volunteering.

“Adventure Central really is our family,” said Mariah. “They’ve seen us all grow up.”

Mariah, now a prevention specialist with a degree in social work, returned to Adventure Central as a volunteer during high school to fulfill credit hours. She’s been volunteering in some capacity ever since, whether it’s helping with overnights or teaching kids fractions while baking pizza. She’s even taken the tools she’s learned while being a student-volunteer into the workforce.

“Using the foundation Adventure Central taught me has shaped how I use my lesson plans,” Mariah said.

Asja and Keira have both volunteered at Adventure Central and have been members of MetroParks’ JET work-based learning program, which allows students interested in the outdoors to job shadow and work alongside MetroParks’ professional staff during the summer. These experiences build leadership and practical workplace skills.

While Asja is off to the University of Dayton on a full scholarship for criminal justice, her experiences at Adventure Central inspired her to consider a career working with at-risk youth. Keira is thinking about becoming a pediatric nurse or zoologist when she completes high school.

As for Sheldon, he’s committed to spending time in nature, volunteering at Adventure Central and watching his daughters thrive.

“It’s great when the kids [from Adventure Central] see you or when I’m out with the girls and the kids call their names,” Sheldon said. “It’s the great relationships you build with kids, and sometimes you don’t realize how important that is.”

Steele family favorites

Though the entire Steele family is dedicated to volunteering their time, they each have different volunteer experiences that top their list.

Keria enjoys working with the kids – especially those in the fourth and fifth grades. She enjoys working around kids her age and developing activities that help kids connect to nature. Through this, she’s learned leadership skills.

Sheldon is a big fan of overnight camps and helping kids with their homework. He enjoys turning off his phone and getting away in nature.

During the initial shut down of the pandemic, Asja enjoyed one of MetroParks’ annual days of service, Adopt-a-Park. This year, she was able to sign up for an Adopt-a-Park service kit to help Adventure Central staff and volunteers spruce up Wesleyan MetroPark and was able to safely reconnect with people she hadn’t seen in a long time.

MetroParks next annual day of service is Make a Difference Day on Saturday, Oct. 23, from 9 a.m. to noon. Community members of all ages and abilities will work at various sites throughout Five Rivers MetroParks to help staff clean up our parks and prepare for winter. Make a Difference Day is a great way to get outside and give back with your friends, family, coworkers or group.

Make a Difference Day is sponsored by Montgomery County Environmental Services, Keep Montgomery County Beautiful and Lexis Nexis.

Sheldon Steele

  • Favorite MetroParks: Possum Creek, Cox Arboretum and Island MetroParks
  • Favorite outdoor activity: Fishing
  • One thing he wants everyone to know about Adventure Central: “I wish more people as they drove by would realize there’s so much more than just that building. The kids go everywhere: creek stomping, on field trips, to meet members of Congress and to conferences. The experiences for them are amazing, and they will always remember that. I’ve seen kids grow up, graduate and go to college — and Adventure Central gave them a path at a young age to follow.”

Mariah Steele

  • Favorite MetroPark: Island MetroPark
  • Favorite outdoor activity: Trail running
  • One thing she wants everyone to know about Adventure Central: “It’s free and people don’t even know it’s there! The connection and relationship we have with Adventure Central are something that’s going to last forever. Something that started off as free is priceless.”

Asja Steele

  • Favorite MetroPark: Carriage Hill MetroPark
  • Favorite outdoor activity: Biking
  • Nature advice for grownups: “Parents need to be involved in the outdoors, too. Come outside, play games, do gardening. It not only opens opportunities for kids, it opens opportunities for adults.”

Keira Steele

  • Favorite MetroPark: Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark
  • Favorite outdoor activity: Nature observation along the trails
  • Nature advice for kids: “Don’t be afraid to try new things, new foods. We live in the city, but when you go to Adventure Central (or any MetroPark), you can do activities you wouldn’t necessarily do in the city. It opens up your mind to a new perspective.”



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