A summer of learning, outdoor exploration and service culminated this morning in a graduation ceremony for 99 Cook County youth at Wampum Lake Forest Preserve in Thornton Township.
Now in its seventh year, the Forest Preserve Experience is a robust collaboration coordinated by Friends of the Forest Preserves and the Forest Preserves of Cook County, with generous support from the Cook County Bureau of Economic Development, the Housing Authority of Cook County, the Forest Preserve Foundation, and others.
“This program would not be possible without the hard work and partnership of these organizations, who work tirelessly to provide the youth with incredible opportunities to explore potential careers paths as well as experience Cook County’s natural beauty,” said Cook County Board and Forest Preserves President Toni Preckwinkle. “I am also grateful that the Cook County Bureau of Economic Development was able to provide additional funding to this year’s Forest Preserve Experience thanks to the American Rescue Plan.”
For five weeks this summer, young people ages 14-19 who live in households that receive services from HACC worked in crews at several FPCC sites in the south and west suburbs, learning about environmental conservation and contributing to the health and beauty of the preserves.
“Not only did youth participating in the Forest Preserve Experience help restore 8 acres of land to ecological health, but they also learned about jobs in the environment and conservation fields, as well as work readiness skills like teamwork, communication and more,” said Forest Preserves General Superintendent Arnold Randall. “We are so proud of their contributions to caring for our local natural habitats, and we hope they continue to build appreciation of these great assets among our future generations.”
“We couldn’t be more proud of this amazing group of nearly 100 young people that accomplished so much this summer,” said Benjamin Cox, executive director of Friends of the Forest Preserves. “This program engages young people in the preserves and in improving them, learning about nature, and gaining valuable teamwork and job skills for whatever career they pursue, all while earning paycheck.”
Most crew members worked at Forest Preserves sites near their homes, allowing them to engage in projects that their families and communities would most easily be able to enjoy. In addition to career and life skills workshops, the summer included a variety of recreational outings and activities, ranging from canoeing to Wellness in the Woods to “Touch a Turtle Day.”
“It’s been a joy to watch this program grow and evolve over the years,” said HACC Executive Director Rich Monocchio. “We are so grateful for our collaborators at FPCC and at Friends of the Forest Preserves, who help us bring our young people this multifaceted opportunity not just to enjoy the best of Cook County’s green spaces but to grow as leaders and explore options for their future.”
A special element of the Forest Preserve Experience is the opportunity to develop leadership skills. Crew members work and learn under the guidance of crew leaders, many of whom are themselves former crew members, and many of the youth return for multiple summers. “The Foundation is proud to support this program and is committed to its continued growth. The program helps meet the Forest Preserves’ habitat restoration goals while providing young women and men with employment experience, environmental education, and leadership skills that nurture increased independence,” said Debra Walker Johnson, president of the Forest Preserve Foundation. “By investing in these young people, we are helping to develop our next generation of conservation leaders.”
About the Forest Preserves of Cook County
Don’t you sometimes just want to escape? Explore the natural beauty of Cook County for an hour, a day or even a night. When you’re surrounded by 70,000 acres of wild and wonderful there’s no better place to feel free.