High school students learn skills to serve them for the future
A summer of learning, outdoor exploration and service culminated this morning in a graduation ceremony for 75 Cook County youth at Wampum Lake Forest Preserve in Thornton Township.
Now in its eighth year, the Forest Preserve Experience (FPE) is a collaborative program 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 (HACC), 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 Act.”
For five weeks this summer, young people ages 14-19 who live in households that receive services from HACC worked in crews at several Forest Preserves 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 land to ecological health, but they also learned about jobs in the environment and conservation fields, as well as career readiness skills like teamwork, communication skills and more. Wherever their career takes them, I hope the lessons they’ve learned this summer help them succeed,” said Forest Preserves General Superintendent Arnold Randall.
“We consider it an honor to work with the next generation in caring for our forest preserves and our planet,” said Radhika Miraglia, Program Director of Friends of the Forest Preserves. “The FPE program nurtures a connection between young people and nature, while training them in job skills such as teamwork, goal-setting, diversity and inclusion, financial literacy, and more.”
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 hiking at the Indiana Dunes National Park to visiting Brookfield Zoo.
“Every year this program takes a proactive approach to ensure that our youth are exposed to the County’s green spaces. Which enables these bright young minds to expand their future career aspirations and options,” said HACC Interim Executive Director and General Counsel Jon Duncan. “This breathtaking opportunity would be impossible without the Forest Preserves and Friends of the Forest Preserves.”
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.
“By providing financial support to this program, the Foundation is investing in the next generation of environmental advocates,” said Forest Preserve Foundation President and Executive Director Debra Walker Johnson. “We are pleased to make a difference in the futures of young people and grateful to them for contributing to our planet’s future. We are committed to keeping the Preserves and communities healthy.”
A returning FPE youth, Joshua Alvarado, has been in the program for three years, and is currently stationed at Calumet Woods.
“I am very passionate and proud of cutting down invasive trees. Although it may be tiring, I’ve learned that it is really fun,” said Joshua Alvarado. “Through the years I’ve been working in the Forest Preserve Experience program, I kept thinking of the possible career paths I could follow, like engineering, but this year, I’ve realized since I like cutting down trees, I want to do resource management in the Forest Preserves.”
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.