Liz Titus Putnam looked at dozens of people in the dining hall at a Dutchess County summer camp — eating, talking and laughing — and she saw a room full of connections.
Although many people in the Sharpe Reservation hall that October morning were in their early 20s, their ties stretched back to 1953. That was when Putnam, a 20-year-old Long Island native and junior at nearby Vassar College, came up with an idea.
After reading a magazine article on the deplorable state of the national park system, Putnam used her senior thesis to propose a voluntary student service program to work at the parks. “I knew that I would be interested in doing that work. And I thought other young people would be interested, too,” Putnam said.
Through timely encouragement and helpful connections that seemed to show up just when needed, the new college graduate founded what became the not-for-profit Student Conservation Association (SCA). Six decades later, more than 90,000 young people have gone through the SCA, with most later going on to jobs and careers in the field of conservation at a myriad of organizations.
Last month, their ranks grew by another 40 people who graduated from the Hudson Valley SCA 2019 program under Putnam’s appreciative and proud gaze. The ceremony was held at the Fresh Air Fund’s Sharpe Reservation in Fishkill.
“I have so much hope for the future, to see young people getting involved,” said Putnam.