This summer, 50 Cook County youth benefited from a five-week paid summer internship, offered thanks to a partnership between the Forest Preserves of Cook County, Friends of the Forest Preserves and the Housing Authority of Cook County. The program, called the Forest Preserves Experience, taught participants about environmental and conservation-related careers while providing hands-on job training.
This year’s crews included youth ranging from 15 to 18 years old who come from families who utilize the services of the Housing Authority of Cook County. Throughout the program, the participants conducted work at local forest preserves including invasive plant removal activities that will improve habitat for the preserve’s diverse wildlife. Youth also beautified lakes and rivers through litter removal efforts, as well as learned about the environment during educational days, met with and learned from conservation professionals, and participated in a Green Career Panel.
One work day involved laying mulch down around new trees at Dan Ryan Woods. According to Alice Brandon, the resource management programming manager for the Forest Preserves, this critical work will help the trees survive in the future.
“For this project, the youth received instruction on the proper way to lay the mulch, which is part of standard tree care that will help them if they were to move into a career in horticulture or at a nursery,” explained Brandon.
Part of the summer program also included the Green Career Panel, where all Forest Preserves Experience and Chicago Conservation Leadership Corps youth came together to listen to a panel of four environmental and conservation professionals speak about their careers. Attendees were able to ask questions, and learned about educational goals, diversity in the workplace and overcoming obstacles.
In addition to technical skill development and opportunities to learn about potential environmental careers, participants learned how to work on a team to accomplish tasks. According to Tjuandell Evans, an 18-year-old Forest Preserves Experience participant, learning about his coworkers was part of what made the summer job experience great.
“[We spent time] learning about invasive species, and after we learned, we started to work. We would cut down the invasive species in an area. We would learn about each other, as well,” explained Evans during the Forest Preserves Experience graduation ceremony. “As I learned about these people, I found out they were unique and fun. We kept working hard and we got to learn about each other more and more – I’m going to miss them when I leave.”
“Giving these young people a chance to experience nature, goal setting, teamwork, and accountability has impacted their lives and will no doubt strengthen their individual capabilities to reach their full potential. All of us were impressed by their desire to apply their hands-on conservation skills to restore their housing communities and the county’s ecosystem,” said Richard Monocchio, Executive Director of the HACC.
“We hope by participating in this summer jobs program, each participant knows the potential for future career paths related to conservation and the environment,” said Arnold Randall, General Superintendent of the Forest Preserves. “Whatever their interests may be, this is a growing industry that includes opportunities in environmental law, environmental advocacy, wildlife biology, forestry and more.”