LEAF interns from Atlanta, GA enjoy an adventurous and well-deserved break from the hard work of pulling invasive species of plants on Block Island...all part of the "lesson plan"!
Article from The Block Island Times, by Charlotte Herring/TNC
On July 9, The Nature Conservancy’s Block Island office welcomed three summer interns, Michael Bowie, Quintavious Lowe and Charles Akin-David, and their mentor Derrick Evans, to the island. All are from Atlanta, Georgia, and came as part of The Nature Conservancy’s Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) Program.
It’s the fourth year the Block Island office is participating in the LEAF Program, which has worked for 18 years to make a difference for our most precious resources — children and nature. Since 1995, the program has partnered with environmentally themed high schools to provide hundreds of students with first time opportunities to leave their urban areas to live, work, and play in the natural world.
Students are divided into teams of three or four and paired with professional mentors for a four-week field season in July. They work alongside Conservancy staff across the country to protect and restore habitat, plant native trees, and save endangered species while learning about careers in conservation. In addition to completing four paid work weeks, they also visit three colleges and enjoy first-time recreational activities on the weekend such as hiking, kayaking and swimming. The program has a tremendous impact on their lives — opening their eyes to career possibilities, building self-confidence, independence, work skills, conservation literacy and a love of the outdoors. Its goal is to empower the next generation of conservationists and equip them with the skills and knowledge to address our world’s most pressing environmental challenges.
So what do this year’s LEAF interns think about Block Island? We asked them to give us their reflections after a couple of days on Block Island.
Michael Bowie: “What a great new experience! Rhode Island is such a beautiful place, and Block Island is a great small island. To arrive on Block Island one must take a ferry ride, which lasts either 30 minutes or an hour. Immediately after reaching Block Island, my peers and I could tell this area was not like Atlanta. Everyone was so very active and nice. The island is not full of the many distractions like the rest of the country, such as a McDonald’s, a shopping mall, or a department store. The beaches here are the most beautiful I have ever seen in person, as well as the cleanest. Locals, as well as frequent visitors, take much pride in their beaches.”
Quintavious Lowe: “We met Chris Littlefield. I was impressed with how people came up to him with different animals and asked if he could identify them. He did it with no problem! He also told me different stories about animals, educational opportunities, and gave me interesting and positive advice on a lot of things… I met Aaron Ellison, an ant researcher/ Harvard professor, and his wife Elizabeth on the third day at The Nature Conservancy. It was shocking to know that people searched for different types of ant specimens. I became curious to see what type of ants they would find. We found seven different species of ants after visiting several different areas around the island (which was quite surprising). Working with Aaron enabled me to see the different scientific methods used to lure and identify ants.”
Charles Akin-David: “We started with our primary job, which was helping to eradicate the excessive invasive plant species on the island. We started off on the Kurz land area and with the help of other interns and volunteers, we pulled out tons of roots ranging from one foot to 12 feet long. Also during my first week, we enjoyed some local recreation areas like the basketball court and the beach. The beach was very fun and a new experience for me, walking on the hot sand and swimming in the cold salty waters definitely proved itself to be as fun and relaxing as all the locals described. Ultimately my first week on Block Island was a learning experience. I met different people, lived in a new climate, and adjusted to living with new conditions. The island is beautiful and conserved, though the invasive plants are a serious problem and I hope that I can contribute to the solution of their eradication.”
Derrick Evans (mentor): “Hopefully we can leave a lasting impression on Block Island and take what we have learned back to Atlanta to enlighten and educate our peers on preserving nature. Being able to live with and having an understanding of nature will help strengthen my awareness and compassion for it.”
The LEAF program has been able to expand with a $3.1 million dollar grant from the Toyota USA Foundation. This summer, 100 students are working on nature preserves across the country. LEAF program participants are coming from: Plainfield, N.J.; New York City, N.Y.; New Haven, Conn.; Atlanta, Ga.; Boston, Mass.; Chicago, Il.; Tacoma, Wa.; and Los Angeles, Ca. Next year we are hopeful that Rhode Island’s own Central Falls High School will be added to the participating schools list.
As to the impact of this amazing program: In the last 17 years, 34 percent of the participants have ended up studying and/or working in the environmental field!