NPS Dir. Jon Jarvis Joins SCA for MLK Day Service


Over 125 Volunteer at Ft. Dupont Park in Washington, DC

TOP PHOTO: NPS Director Jon Jarvis surveys the litter haul with DC Community Crew member Ashley C. during SCA’s MLK Day service project in Ft. Dupont Park

It’s not every day that you’ll find National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis out tromping around the woods in southeast Washington, DC, gathering up all manners of litter–old tires, frayed dog collars, busted stereo components–with a bunch of enthusiastic teenagers and twenty-somethings, but then again, not every day is Martin Luther King Day. The woods were in Ft. Dupont Park, a 376-acre slice of forest and lawn popular amongst area residents for its trails, community garden, and summer concerts. The twenty-somethings and their teenaged cohorts were volunteers numbering 125, gathered by the Student Conservation Association to celebrate the legacy of Dr. King with hands on conservation service to the community.

With dozens of DC-area MLK Day service events to choose from, it’s no coincidence that Director Jarvis ended up serving with SCA. Interviewed prior to the day’s service, Jarvis recalled having hired his very first SCA intern in 1978, a Resource Assistant named Diane with whom he worked on many a project at Prince William Forest Park in Virginia. Since then he’s worked alongside SCA interns and crews at every single site he’s managed, from Craters of the Moon in Idaho to Wrangell-St. Elias in Alaska. “SCA is one of our oldest and most successful partners in bringing young people to national parks and other public lands for service projects,” Jarvis remarked. “I see the lights go on with these young folks when they’re out in these environments and they’re working hard and they’re experiencing these places… SCA and some of the other youth corps [are doing] an extraordinary job of building the next generation of stewards….”

Monday’s volunteers demonstrated a strong sense of stewardship throughout the day as, armed with loppers, heavy gloves, trash-pickers, and fluorescent orange trash bags, they teamed up and spread through the forest to haul litter and cut down invasive vines. The participants were a varied bunch. Some were what SCA calls “old faithfuls,” high school seniors who have served on SCA community crews since they were freshman. A few came by way of one of SCA’s strongest partners in service, AmeriCorps, as they were stationed in DC on their current NCCC rotation. Others were brand new to SCA, having found the event simply by searching the web for a way to serve their planet and their community in honor of the Reverend Dr. King. There was even a group of young republicans from Catholic University in northeast DC. Regardless of how they came to be there, everyone was excited to be outside working hard to improve the park for its many visitors.

As it approaches its 100th anniversary in 2016, one of NPS’s major goals is to do a better job reaching Americans of diverse and underprivileged backgrounds, whether as visitors to national parks, or as employees. Describing NPS’s efforts to meet this goal, Dir. Jarvis said, “first and foremost we are focusing a lot on our national parks in urban areas.” Ft. Dupont is a perfect example of just such a park, managed by NPS and located in one of DC’s most marginalized neighborhoods. On how SCA is helping the park service extend its experiences and opportunities to diverse Americans, Jarvis said, “SCA provides an extraordinary opportunity for young people that may otherwise have no connection to these places or this kind of work.”

Monday’s service project was kicked off with remarks from Dir. Jarvis, and from Monique Dailey, SCA’s Youth Programs manager for the D.C. Area. Focusing on the man everyone present intended to honor with their service, Dir. Jarvis said, “The message Dr. King carried was of service to others. He asked each of us: ‘What are you doing for each other, what are you doing for others, what are you doing for your community?’  And he lived that life, and he stands as a symbol for all of us.” Ms. Dailey spoke of how, when she was a kid, growing up in a rough part of DC, it was SCA service that helped her escape the drugs and violence that were omnipresent in her community. “In a way,” she said, “service saved my life.”

written by Joe Thurston, SCA Social Media Coordinator

SCA volunteers served across the country this MLK Day. Read about it here.

For DCist & Voice of America coverage of the Ft. Dupont MLK Day project, head here & here.

NPS Dir. Jon Jarvis talks service with SCA “Old Faithful” Kavon H.