Written by Monique Dailey who has been an SCA member since she was 10 years old. She's been a member of the local high school Community and Conservation Leadership Corps Crew at parks in DC, a national high school crew member at Salmon-Challis National Forest in east-central Idaho, and an SCA intern and high school crew leader in the local DC area.
My experience with the outdoors, and with the Student Conservation Association, started at age 10 because of a dog - a dog and a woman who enjoyed going to the park every day. A park that none of us neighborhood kids even knew existed because where I grew up going to a park was never considered an option. Even walking your dog was an anomaly given how prevalent drug use and gang violence was in my neighborhood in Washington, D.C. So when we saw this woman walking every day smiling and waving, we were curious as to where she was going. One day a group of us kids asked her and she invited us to walk with her.
Monique Dailey and the First Lady plant trees at a local DC Earth Day event.
The decision to go with her to the park undoubtedly changed the course of my life. I instantly fell in love with the beauty of the park. It was so unlike anything I experienced in the concrete jungle - the colors (how can anything be so green?), the sounds (a bird tweeting, the wind rustling through the leaves, and, sporadically, the silence), and the feeling of breathing the freshest air I've ever breathed. All of this was found a mere two miles away from my neighborhood.
After that day I knew I wanted to preserve areas like this for the rest of my life. With assistance from SCA, that woman started a community group to maintain the new-found passion that we kids discovered about becoming more connected with the environment. I have remained involved with SCA ever since. I've done community crews, national high school crews, internships, and even led crews and managed programs.
Monique engages local DC kids in an SCA community crew program at a local community park.
I'm sharing this story because my connection with the natural environment is an unfortunate anomaly where I grew up. There was never a real push to visit our Parks nor was there real access. Combined with the harsh realities of growing up in an impoverished neighborhood, there was just no real priority to foster environmental stewardship in youth.
These are the same obstacles the National Park Service and environmental organizations face today in getting urban youth actively involved in conservation, and the obstacles discussed at America's Summit on National Parks on January 24-26 in Washington, D.C. (http://www.2016parksummit.org/)
The purpose of the Summit was to discuss the future of America's national parks, including connecting youth and urban communities to parks and the environment since this is a major focus of the National Park Service and environmental organizations such as SCA in the coming years. I was invited to attend America's Summit on National Parks to represent my generation as one of the future leaders in environmental conservation. No pressure, right?
While there, I was able to meet leaders, philanthropists, politicians, and educators from across the country in the field of conservation. We talked candidly about my nearly 16 years of experience with SCA and how the experience shaped me into the person I am today. We also discussed ways to get more young people actively involved in environmental conservation.
Monique presented Liz Putnam with The Corps' Networks Legacy Acheivement Award on Feb. 12, 2012.
My advice to the National Parks Service and to other environmental organizations wanting to involve young people from all backgrounds is this: You need to get young people out there and you need to go into their communities to do it. What I've learned is that the barriers aren't insurmountable. However, it is important to actively pursue youth to bridge those missing connections. Reaching out directly to young people in their communities allows you to start to plant the seeds of environmental stewardship. It's hard for any young person to connect with an environment they don't understand. But, I believe active participation is key. Go to where the kids are and bring that enthusiasm to them!
When I hear the phrase "Taking action for a new century", I think of my generation - 18 - 29 year olds referred to as the Millennial Generation or Generation Y. We are the most educated in history as well as the most confident, upbeat and progressive. We are more ethnically and racially diverse than any previous generation in American history. Thus, equally important is keeping youth involved even after they participate in service projects in high school and internships in college. The ultimate goal is to foster that connection through adulthood.
There are scores of people in my generation who are ready and willing to play a role in environmental conservation. There are Returned Peace Corps Volunteers like myself who are eager to start a career in service. There are scores of others who would be more than interested to teach youth about the environment and participate in service projects and events in their communities. It's a matter of staying engaged and going to where the young people are whether through social media or physically working in their communities. Taking action is critical.
As we make efforts to conserve and interact with the environment in a sustainable manner, it's important to ensure that we involve everyone and not waste the opportunity to connect and learn from the young people who will soon be the shepherds of our natural resources. We have the energy and enthusiasm and we're looking for a way to focus it to make a difference in our planet...we're just hoping someone will show us the way.
Student Conservation Association and American Eagle Outfitters will engage 120 students from colleges across the country in meaningful hands-on conservation service at two of our most environmentally challenged national parks: Everglades National Park and Joshua Tree National Park. To learn more about participating in the 2012 Alternative Spring Break from SCA and American Eagle Outfitters, visit SCA’s Alternative Spring Break webpage and read Lauren's account below.
Written by Lauren Freedman Whittlesey, SCA '10.
Two years after my Alternative Spring Break trip with SCA and American Eagle Outfitters, I still can't shut up about it. I was at the end of my first year of graduate school in Manhattan. I got most of my exercise running down the block for the bus or hastily jogging up nine flights of stairs when the elevator at school was broken. I was afraid I might forget what stars looked like. When I was offered a spot on SCA's Alternative Spring Break crew at the Grand Canyon, I immediately accepted and then remembered I didn't even have a sleeping bag.
Luckily, I was able to borrow a sleeping bag and rounded up the warmest gear I could find. I spent the coldest nights of my life huddled around a campfire with 30 new friends and sleeping in my heaviest coat, hat, and gloves. With snow on the tent and frozen noses, coffee has never tasted so good.
The cold was immediately forgotten when we began work in the mornings. We spent our first days salvaging native plants in areas of the park that were slated for construction projects. These salvaged plants would spend the next year in the park's nursery, readying for another crew to replant them the following spring. Our fledgling crew salvaged, potted, and transported over 1300 native plants in just two days! It was so satisfying to see the fruits of our labor lined up in neat rows filling the nursery and knowing we were making a difference at one of the world's greatest natural wonders.
After a few days of salvaging, we completed the cycle by planting native plants that had been salvaged by the previous year's ASB crew. Those plants will still be decorating the landscape at the Grand Canyon visitor's center when my own children are old enough to work on an ASB crew.
When we weren't busy getting our hands dirty, my crew and I spent time learning about the history of the canyon, visiting the National Park Service's private museum of Grand Canyon artifacts (with a tour from the curator, an SCA alumna), hiking, and enjoying the breathtaking views. We also took in a few ranger talks and went for a moonlit hike along the South Rim one evening.
Sounds like a lot in just five days? It was! I'm still amazed that we could cram so much work and so much fun into just one week. When I got home, I was completely exhausted, and thrilled to sleep in a warm, soft bed again. But at the same time, I couldn't stop telling my friends and family how about satisfying and exhilarating my spring break was.
I know I'll still be bragging about my awesome crew for at least another two years. As this year's ASB crews head to the Everglades and Joshua Tree National Park in just a couple months, I'm a little envious but mostly excited. They have big boots to fill, and I can't wait to hear what they come back bragging about.
Looking for a different type of spring break trip this year? Learn more about participating in the 2012 Alternative Spring Break from SCA and American Eagle Outfitters at SCA’s Alternative Spring Break page, deadline to apply is Feb. 10th!
Photo credit: Evan Kutzler from SCA's I heart Snow photo contest 2011
And the winner of the Jan 2012 Caption Contest is...Jayelle Cumberledge with...
NO! NO! Please don’t scream, you’ll cause an avalan--
Other top contenders included:
Jayelle won cool SCA gear like a travel mug or water bottle. If you want to add cool SCA gear to your collection, make sure you "like" SCA's Facebook page to get our updates and feeds.
Here's what the photographer, Evan, had to say when he submitted his photo:
"It's sort of like getting burried in the sand, only colder. The person in the picture is standing up. I'll leave it up to you to figure out how the scenario was created."
So, this is our next question: How do you think the scenario was created?
Dr. Martin Luther King said "all labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance." SCA members, alumni, staff and volunteers stayed true to that message on MLK Day. On Monday, January 16th hundreds of SCA members and volunteers across the country got together to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr day through acts of service.
MLK events were held in DC, Philly, Houston, the Bay area, Manchester, NH and many other locations. Check out videos and photos from SCA's.
An SCA Philly crew leader on MLK day in Valley Forge, Pa.