Tell me, I forget
Show me, I remember
Involve me, and I understand
When my fifteen-year-old daughter attended her county’s youth conservation camp, she felt like an outcast. She wasn’t into shooting black powder rifles like most of the kids, for the powerful recoil scared her. She also felt shy in the large group. She did love absorbing the knowledge she was fed in the 5-day camp, documenting everything in her journal.
She wanted to remember everything because she personally cared about every fish, invertebrate, and fern that she discovered. She was the only camper who recorded anything, which resulted in getting her the highest score on the surprise test the campers received at the week’s end. She won a full scholarship to attend the two-week Pennsylvania Conservation Camp at University Park the next summer.
Only a few experiences in a young person’s life impact them to the point where they are propelled down a particular path and are forever changed. Schuylkill County’s Norm Thornberg Conservation Camp was one for Sierra.
These youth camps are often administered by conservation districts and sometimes sponsored by sportsmen’s clubs. This wonderful gift to our youth and our planet has been going on for more than thirty years.
The ultimate goal of these camps is to introduce students to conservation and environmental careers, and to encourage them to pursue their interests. They might learn how to track wildlife, identify native plants, or tie a fly. From stream sampling of fish and aquatic life, to forestry skills, daily activities are planned to get students out in the field to meet and observe environmental professionals. The camps are usually targeted to teens age 14 to 18. Professionals in the field teach many of the hands-on classes and learning is the kind that lasts…experiential learning. Many instructors donate their time, equipment, and expertise to provide this experience. Sometimes the camps offer opportunities for attendees to seek internships and mentoring and job shadowing positions, as well as returning as camp leaders. Scholarships and sponsorships are often available.
When students leave these camps they have a keen awareness of the outdoor world and the many careers found there. They also have the desire to become tomorrow’s stewards of the natural world.
The level beyond local camps is the state camp. In Pennsylvania it is the Conservation Leadership School. This is where Sierra blossomed. She learned all sorts of things about firefighting, canoeing, forestry management, wildlife, etc. She learned to analyze her hometown drinking water, balance deer population, behind- the-scenes recycling, and realized what exactly a “green” building is.
Up until that point, Sierra was learning for her own personal interests, her own personal career goals. But she saw the tremendous energy a group of like-minded individuals can have on one another. If they bonded, cared for one another, it didn’t matter if they were cleaning up a disgusting tire dump; they could have fun and make a positive difference.
As a homeschooled high schooler, Sierra went on to create the Schuylkill County Student Conservation Club. Within two years, these teens conducted more than 20 projects including tree plantings, river clean-ups, and helping biologists monitor elk calving. Her leadership and the groups’ extensive work enabled Sierra to earn two $10,000 private scholarships that sent her to Temple University. There she created the Temple Outdoor Club, and became involved in creating a Sustainable Living Forum.
Her conservation camp exposure came full circle this past spring when she returned home from teaching English in China after graduation from Temple University She was looking for a job that would enable her to put her skills to work as well as create good so she contacted all her past mentors in the conservation world. And the Schuylkill Headwaters Association rose to the occasion.
“Give me a few days,” Bill Reichert, president of Schuylkill Headwaters Assoc. said to Sierra.
He got back to her with an Outreach Coordinator position as an Americorps intern, through the Appalachian Coal Country Team, a regional organization that oversees her position and funded by the Office of Surface Mining. Part of her duties are managing the visiting Americorps National Civilian Community Corps Team. Sierra researched and designed three rain gardens totaling 2,500 square feet that they installed at a Schuylkill County Acid Mine Drainage Treatment System. She also organized an Arbor Day tree planting event coordinating the planting of 3,000 trees in a reclaimed mine area, as part of the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative.
Sierra is doing so much good in her own county, her own backyard, which inspired and educated her as a youngster back when she was only fifteen years old. Sierra, like other youth who have attended conservation camps, has continually built on her first camp experience. The ripples have moved out into all aspects of her life and influenced her community and her occupation, and have injected her with a passion to make the world a better place.
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