Written by Carmelita Rosner
How do you get a group of high schoolers to work outside away from their phones in the cold of the winter and the heat of the summer? Make it fun! Paying them helps as well, of course, and John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge does both.
Partnering with MobilizeGreen, an organization dedicated to empowering diverse students through internships, mentoring, and youth engagement, the Refuge provides year-long employment to high school aged kids. During the Spring and Fall, the crew of 12 works on Saturdays. Summer months find a crew of 18 working Monday through Friday. What holds true throughout the seasons is an emphasis on Southwest Philadelphia, from where we work to who we hire as crew members and crew leaders.
Over the course of the season, as they remove invasive vines strangling beneficial trees, learn about the connection between their neighborhood pollution and the water at the Refuge, or kayak in Darby Creek, the magic starts to happen. A crew member becomes dedicated to freeing as many trees as thoroughly as possible. The group starts joking with each other more. A quiet leader emerges.
As the community engagement specialist, this is my favorite aspect of the program. Anyone with high schoolers knows just how much they can change and from the beginning of the season to the end, the growth is great. Even the returnees, some of whom have done three seasons with Mobilize Green, continue to surprise me as they stretch into themselves, their sense of humor, creativity, and willingness to grow.
To learn more about the program, visit www.mobilizegreen.org or email Carmelita_rosner@fws.gov and firstname.lastname@example.org.