LEAF interns help the island's resources
Earlier this summer, The Nature Conservancy’s Block Island office welcomed three summer interns, Andrew Sutchen, Christian Abys, and Javier Martinez — and their mentor Charles Holiday — as part of The Nature Conservancy’s Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) Program.
This is the fifth year the Block Island office is participating in the LEAF Program, which started 19 years ago to make a difference for our most precious resources — children and nature. 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 here.
Andrew Sutchen, New York, N.Y.: “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, Conn.: “So far the LEAF program has been a ton of new experiences for me. I learned about different invasive plants, such as black swallowart and bittersweet. I learned how their root systems are complex and extensive. I got to learn about the island’s 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 my time here and hope to experience more things.”
Christian Abys, New Haven, Conn.: “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, N.Y. (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 me 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 repellent and water and venture out into the field. We have maintained many trails while pulling invasive species such as bittersweet and black swallowart. 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 Coast Team restoring oyster reefs. In addition to this, the chapter enrolled the environmental academy at Central Falls High School as a source school sending four students to work in southern Maine.