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Charles Thomas ~ Closing Keynote (April 17, 2013)

“Janine is a change agent. She has an extraordinary ability to ignite people’s spirits and move them to find the real potential of their lives; her story inspires people around the world.” —Deepak Chopra


Rising Like a Phoenix: A Testament to the Power of the Human Spirit

Photo of man gesturing while others smile

Janine Shepherd


Charles Thomas, Jr. is currently Pacific West Regional Manager of Youth Programs, National Park Service, responsible for managing a $4 million youth program fund and providing technical youth program expertise for 60 National Park Units from the Canadian border to the Mexican border from Montana to Guam and Saipan.

Charles Thomas is a man with a long history of firsts in promoting diversity and inclusion in the outdoor world.  In the early eighties, he was the first person of color in the history of Southern Oregon University to graduate with dual degrees in Physical Geography and Environmental Studies.  During his college years Charles approached the U.S. Forest Service and assisted in the design of a program that recruited African-American students into seasonal employment positions in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in the state of Washington.

In graduate school Charles worked as a naturalist and wrote a staff handbook for Los Angeles County Outdoor Schools on how to work with ethnically diverse students.  Later as an ecologist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he was honored by the Federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission for designing a program that introduced urban youth of color to the environmental work of the Army Corps of Engineers.

Following his work at the Army Corps of Engineers, Charles became the City of Pasadena’s first Environmental Affairs Coordinator, managing the largest environmental restoration project in the history of the city.  Charles holds the distinction of being the principal author of the City of Pasadena’s Environmental Charter, a document that is used today to guide the city’s development and environmental initiatives.

Throughout his life he has been involved with Outward Bound Adventures (OBA), where he worked seasonally and part-time for nearly 20 years, and worked full-time as Executive Director for 16 years.  During that time he created several award-winning programs dedicated to enriching the lives of underserved urban populations, especially high-risk youth and their families, by introducing them to the therapeutic value of spending time in wild places and open spaces.

Charles has been on numerous panels and has presented to countless commissions, Leadership Councils, subcommittees, and environmental organizations speaking on how to engage a broader audience in outdoor recreation. He has created numerous programs that have been highly successful, programs like his Teach me to Camp program for single low-income mothers, Diverse Outdoor Leadership Institute, Environmental Restoration Teams for gang impacted communities, and his Get Out And Learn environmental education program for inner-city youth.

Over the years Charles has received numerous awards and been honored for his work engaging underserved populations in the out of doors.

Charles has been awarded and recognized for his work by City of Pasadena, LA County Board of Supervisors, California State Assembly, California State Senate, US Army Corps of Engineers, National Mosaic award for partnerships in diversity, Commit to Achieve Pillar Award for service, MESA award for Minorities in (Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement), a special Congressional recognition award from Congressman Adam Schiff.

Most recently Charles was invited by the White House to witness President Obama sign into effect the Great American Outdoor initiative.

He hopes to be finishing his book on creating engaging outdoor education programs for urban youth in late 2013.


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