Block Island LEAF Interns 2013

"The Nature Conservancy office gives my interns and I precious opportunities to speak to conservationists, stewards and scientists who are making a difference.", Charles Holiday, LEAF Mentor

For the fifth year, the Block Island office is participating in the LEAF Program, which has worked for 19 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 high school students with 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 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 the LEAF interns think about Block Island?  We asked them to give us their reflections after a couple days on Block Island.

Andrew Sutchen, New York, NY: “After the ferry docked we drove off and up the road.  We pulled into the driveway and I noticed a farm.  My first thought was oh cool a little farm with horses, and sheep and WAIT!!! is that a camel, is that a kangaroo. There is a zoo in my backyard! The guys I’m with hit it off instantly playing cards, discussing politics, and sharing our scientific knowledge.  The work is nothing we’re not used to, we all come from environmental schools and are unfazed by even the largest bittersweet root system. ”

Javier Martinez, New Haven, CT: “So far the LEAF program has been a ton of new experiences for me.  I learned about different invasive plants such as black swallow-wort and bittersweet.  I got to learn how their root systems are so complex and extensive.  I got to learn about the island interesting history, for example its change from a fishing town to a tourist attraction.  The island is beautiful as well.  The Southeast Lighthouse is a marvel of a structure.  I am looking forward to the duration of my time here and hope to experience plenty more things.”  

Christian Abys, New Haven, CT: “At The Nature Conservancy I like the busy but somewhat relaxed schedule where I get things like invasive species jobs and still keep myself interested and motivated by being educated on the importance of what we’re doing by removing invasive plants.”

Charles Holiday, New York, NY (mentor): “Upon reflecting on my first week on Block Island I realize that words cannot truly capture the wonder and awe that I experience every day. Living at The Nature Conservancy office gives my interns and I precious opportunities to speak to conservationists, stewards and scientists who are making a difference.  They are eager to pass down their knowledge to the next generation. So far my interns and I are adjusting well to the nature of conservation work on this island. Every morning we armor ourselves with sunscreen, bug repellant and water and venture out into the field. We have maintained many trails while pulling invasive species such as bittersweet and black swallow-wort.  Our weapons of choice are loppers, pitchforks and shovels.  We embrace every thorn and passing glare of the sun knowing that pristine beaches await our arrival after a long and hard day of work.”

The Rhode Island Chapter also welcomed three LEAF students from the Harbor School in New York City to work with our Ocean and Coastal Conservation Team restoring oyster reefs in Ninigret and Quonnie Ponds. In addition to this the Conservancy arranged for four students from Central Falls High School to work in southern Maine as LEAF interns this summer.   

With leading support from the Toyota USA Foundation, the program continues to expand in New York City, NY, New Haven, CT, Plainfield, NJ, Atlanta, GA, Boston, MA, Chicago, IL, Seattle, WA, Los Angeles, CA, Denver, CO, Philadelphia, PA and Central Falls, RI. As to the impact of this amazing program – over the last 19 years, 34 percent of the participants have ended up studying and/or working in the environmental field!

This article was published by the Block Island Times on Jul 29, 2013 as "LEAF interns help the island's resources" and was written by Charlotte Herring/TNC. 


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