We Will Not Be Tamed ambassador Leon McNeil has been connecting children to nature for more than 20 years. His program, called City Kids Adventures, has been mentoring kids through outdoor experiences for more than 20 years. Thanks to the support of many sponsors and landowners, hundreds of kids have been introduced to camping, fishing, kayaking and hunting across Texas. We tagged along on a recent feral hog hunt on a South Texas ranch with McNeil, landowner Frates Seeligson and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Wildlife Biologist Jamie Killian.
Pro Tip: Bird Dog Training
Listen in as Leon McNeil provides a few training tips for working with your bird dog.
The family that plays together, stays together. Leon McNeil and his family exemplify that saying, and they are sharing their love of the outdoors with hundreds of urban children through a program called City Kids Adventures. We caught up with the McNeils after a recent Saturday morning kayak trip on the Guadalupe River. Listen in on a conversation with a remarkable Texas outdoor family: Leon, Leticia and their son, Lee Charles.
Q&A with Leon
Why did you start City Kids Adventures?
City Kids Adventures is my way of saying thank you to the countless people who helped steer my life in the right direction. Like many kids in the inner city, my life started with many challenges and few opportunities. My high school coaches took me in and helped me understand the importance of hard work. As a result, I earned a football scholarship to Abilene Christian University. In that first year of college, I felt isolated because I had few common experiences with others. Then I got invited to go on a camping trip, which was a life-changing experience. There was an outdoor education course at the university, so I enrolled and helped involve other students with these experiences. That was the genesis for City Kids Adventures, and it’s my way of paying it forward.
What impact do outdoor experiences have on the kids you serve?
So many of our kids come from environments that are filled with negativity. Experiencing the outdoors gives them the opportunity to understand that there is another world out there. One fishing trip or camping outing can have a lasting lifetime impact; it also creates hope and gives our kids the opportunity to see that positive family experiences are possible. Our objective is to stay with our kids through middle and high school and beyond. We mentor them and help them understand that hard work has many rewards. Outdoor experiences help kids understand that proposition. We’ve served hundreds of kids since our first campout in 1997. They’ve gone on to graduate from high school and college, and many of them are now serving their community as teachers, police officers and service members. It’s very rewarding to see the impact that outdoor experiences can have on young people.
How has City Kids Adventures impacted your life?
This is an interesting question because it is very difficult to assess the impact on our lives when what you do is your life. We all have purpose-driven lives, and it is rewarding to understand what your purpose is. It has become a calling for my wife and me, and my son is very involved, too. As a family we are blessed to have been given the opportunity to give back and help as many kids as we possibly can.
Why have you partnered with TPWF in the We Will Not Be Tamed campaign?
There’s no place on this earth quite like Texas. TPWF’s We Will Not Be Tamed campaign honors the land and wildlife of our state and brings awareness to it. The conservation message is one we all need to take to heart. TPWF is also helping underserved demographics enjoy the resources Texas has to offer. That’s something we can all support.
Can you share a recent outdoor experience that was meaningful to you and explain why?
For me every outdoor experience is meaningful, because you have the opportunity to create a memory that will last a lifetime. But to reflect on a recent trip, I would have to say the time I spent this past Christmas break with my son is especially meaningful. Former Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission Chairman Dan Allen Hughes is one of our supporters, and he invited my son and me to experience our first mule deer hunt together on his ranch in West Texas. Nothing can ever replace time spent outdoors with family, and in a world which has become so connected socially, we must disconnect in order to re-connect. City Kids Adventures gives our kids the opportunity to disconnect, reflect on and aspire for things that really matter.