Students from the Big Apple Take on Tamarisk

“Nature is what shapes and changes a person into something better."

-Evita Benavides, age 17

“I feel comfortable with dirt but a little edgy about bugs.”

So says 16-year-old Kenia Cohetero as she begins a summer adventure far from her usual surroundings in Harlem, New York.

“I’ve never seen a cactus,” chimes in Brooklyn-resident Evita Benavides, age 17.

“I am expecting to change,” says Deborah Gbadamosi, another 17-year-old from Brooklyn.

The three young women from the Big Apple, along with mentor Melissa Miles, are spending their summer with the Conservancy in Arizona.

They’ve joined 72 other high school students from urban environments who are heading to preserves across the country as part of the Conservancy’s Leaders in Environmental Action for Future program (LEAF).

For many of these high school students, it will be their first experience in the outdoors.

Future Leaders

LEAF is all about empowering the next generation of conservation leaders. The program works with a select group of environmental high schools, and provides paid summer internships for students in natural areas across the nation.

Arizona’s LEAF interns arrived in July and are in for an adventure.

Their primary task for the six-week internship is to help restore Arizona’s Verde River, a critical focus area for the Conservancy in Arizona.

With GPS units in hand, the high school students are mapping the invasive species tamarisk, the first step to managing these water-hungry weeds on the Verde River.

They’ll also collect and preserve native seeds, train local kids in water conservation, and remove fences on the Shield Ranch for wildlife on the move.

It will be a far cry from what these girls are used to.

“I am very excited about going, but I’m also nervous because I’ve never left home,” admits Deborah.

Goodbye, City Life

But Arizona’s LEAF interns are up for the challenge.

Deborah says her biggest challenge until now was coming to America from Nigeria when she was nine years old. Since then, she’s been her class’s salutatorian and loves math and a “little bit of chemistry.”

Kenia wants to be a scientist and says her biggest challenge is getting good grades. Evita was born in Belize and wants to be a doctor.

They all have high hopes for the summer.

“Nature is what shapes and changes a person into something better,” says Evita.


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