In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which inflicted $200B in damage upon the City of Houston, SCA spoke with Ingrid Piña, a 17-year old SCA volunteer, just after her local crew began to assist with the clean-up.
What did you see out there?
That first day, we surveyed our work site, Houston’s White Oak Bayou Greenway, and saw trash dangling in trees fifteen feet in the air, bent road signs entangled in branches, and random items – from tires to playhouses – strewn across whatever had not been trampled by Harvey’s floodwaters.
Your crew works periodic weekends during the school year?
Yes. We are a crew of students from all over Houston, and if any of us had not seen the value of working around the school year, we definitely saw it then – we felt it. Our community needs us serving, restoring natural places at every moment of time.
Did Harvey magnify that necessity for you?
Certainly, our circumstances in Houston are dramatic. However, the less dramatic signs are not less important, something huge that I’ve learned from SCA. True restoration along the bayou will involve removing invasive species and planting native trees if we want to make our ecosystem healthy and thriving again, and lessen the impact of natural disasters in the future.
Is it tough balancing school, SCA, and the rest of your life?
Sometimes, the night before a crew day, I sigh, exhausted from a busy school week, not ready to wake up early and plunge into the wetland mud. However, the feeling after a full crew day is incomparable. I never regret showing up. To bond with the land you live on, the people you live near, to truly become an active, positive member of your ecosystem, this is a special opportunity.
What are the similarities or differences between SCA national crews and community crews?
On my national crew summer at Saguaro National Park, I spent 28 days with the same nine people. I hardly touched my phone, went inside a physical building, or looked in a mirror. I fell asleep every night the second my head hit my sleeping bag, on top of the desert earth, and woke up with the sun rising, rested like never before. I loved it. The way the dates worked out, the morning after I arrived back in Houston, I started my junior year in high school – what could be more of a rude awakening from what I felt was utopia?
How did you cope?
I faced a lot of internal questioning, wanting to run off into the forest, but felt lackluster with what little natural greens Houston had. I was anxious to join the Houston school year program, though not sure how I would feel about working just one weekend a month. However, after the first day, my spirits were unbelievably raised. I felt in tune with myself again, seeing soon-to-be friends in those familiar blue SCA shirts, and donning those yellow hard hats.
What have you learned thus far?
I realize that what I thought was scrubby swamp around me is actually really important for water filtration, bird migration and more. While the summer crew sparked wonderful personal introspection on how I find myself in conservation, the community crew is key to connecting me with my home habitat, and inspiring conservation as a lifestyle rather than something that can only be done at certain lengths.
What are you doing now to be more sustainable?
I ride the bus to school, take short showers, shop secondhand, eat less meat, and every day look for more ways to respect the earth and my body. These actions, though seemingly small, are important because without shifts in individual lives, our combined impact on the earth will never cease to be negative. Increasing awareness, this consciousness, of how intertwined we are with the earth, is exactly what needs to grow for the earth to heal.