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  • Southern Illinois University at Carbondale is home to a unique center for outdoor, environmental, and experiential learning. Known as Touch of Nature Environmental Center, it has become well respected in North America for programs that emphasize both natural and human resources.

    Touch of Nature offers a wide variety of educational and service programs. We provide education and recreation for individuals with disabilities, and for people of public service, institutional support, and service to students, instruction, and research. Few other environmental centers offer an equivalent range of services and programs.

    The Touch of Nature staff believes that individuals and groups, agencies and institutions, must shape themselves and their environment in ways that will increase their well-being and, thereby, their productivity. In that spirit, the center's programs and services are designed to enrich the lives of participants.

    Touch of Nature is located eight miles southeast of Carbondale in the rolling hills of southern Illinois. A 900-acre lake, Giant City State Park, and Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, as well as the Shawnee National Forest border its 3,100 acres. It is a beautiful, peaceful setting ideally suited for nature study or recreation, for study and reflection, or for just relaxing.

    Touch of Nature has gained national recognition for pioneering experiential learning programs--camping, recreation for all populations, ecological/environmental education, and retreats--in which learning takes place through experiences in the outdoors. Support for these programs has come from such groups as United Cerebral Palsy, The Lions of Illinois Foundation, the American Camping Association (camping and recreation for individuals with disabilities), The Friends of Touch of Nature, the Illinois Department of Corrections, the Department of Children and Family Services, (Wilderness Adventure Programs), and the National Science Foundation (ecological/environmental programs). Programs for social service agencies, public and private schools, community colleges, other universities, religious groups, state and federal organizations, business and industry, and individual participants are available.

    Touch of Nature, with its well-trained staff, its great natural setting, and its access to the University faculty, can provide stimulating recreational and educational experiences for individuals and groups.

    Our oldest program, Therapeutic Recreation Program, Camp Little Giant, serves children and adults with hearing, visual, mental, and physical disabilities. The camp has achieved national and international recognition. In 1980, it received the Eleanor P. Ells award from the Fund for the Advancement of Camping. Campers thrive in this outdoor setting where there is an atmosphere of love and acceptance. Although Camp Little Giant is a summer program, the Therapeutic Recreation programs operate throughout the year.

    In the fall, winter, and spring, much of our program emphasis shifts toward adults. Programs for older adults, co-hosted by Elderhostel, go into full swing, and participants learn and play in the scenic Southern Illinois outdoors. Activities include birding in the Mississippi Flyway, studies of our national forests, and the diverse ecology of Southern Illinois, management of mammals and waterfowl, and wilderness adventure. These programs have become models for similar activities elsewhere.

    We do more. We help those in need. Spectrum Wilderness is a 30-day wilderness stress challenge program for young people on the verge of serious trouble in school, at home, or in the community, and for people making the transition from institutional care to independent living. Group processes, initiative courses, and wilderness living are used to help participants grow confident and develop a sense of being part of a community. They learn responsible behavior by trying new activities and coping with controlled but psychologically stressful situations. The programs are carefully designed, tested, and monitored by staff people trained to help participants build healthier lifestyles.