WESPEN Online Order Form print this page
US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge Staff Speak at National Conference for Urban Youth, 2nd year running

Region 5, April 4, 2014
Wallkill River NWR represents Service at Groundwork's national conference
Wallkill River NWR represents Service at Groundwork's national conference - Photo Credit: n/a
Wallkill River NWR biologist Marilyn Kitchell speaks at Groundwork's national conference
Wallkill River NWR biologist Marilyn Kitchell speaks at Groundwork's national conference - Photo Credit: n/a

For the second year in a row, Wallkill River NWR staff were asked to participate at the national conference of Groundwork USA, an organization that engages urban youth in developing community-based partnerships that promote environmental, economic and social well-being in urban communities. Having partnered with Groundwork several times since 2012, refuge biologist Marilyn Kitchell represented Wallkill River NWR in a panel discussion entitled “Work, Play, Learn, Serve: Groundwork Youth Engagement on Federal Public Lands”. The discussion explored how federal partnerships have been developed, how they work, and the ways these experiences have shaped young people emerging from Groundwork programs. Wallkill River NWR is the first (and only) FWS partner to have worked with Groundwork, and the refuge was asked to speak to the success and benefits of Groundwork-FWS projects for urban youth, urban communities, and refuge resources. The panel also included representatives from Yellowstone National Park, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, and Youth Program Leaders and youth members from Groundwork trusts in Denver CO and Yonkers NY.

 

The conference also included break-out sessions, additional panel discussions, and networking sessions to bring Groundwork members and federal partners (including NPS, EPA, and Wallkill staff) together in conversations around the benefits and needs of these federal-urban partnerships. Refuge biological technician Ken Witkowski and biologist Marilyn Kitchell had the opportunity to meet inspiring youth delegates and partners from across the country, swap success stories, and brainstorm new opportunities. Building on that energy, Marilyn Kitchell was approached by a Groundwork youth delegate attending Rutgers University who hopes to spend her Fridays this summer volunteering at the refuge. It seems that the benefits of this partnership with Groundwork are self-perpetuating – just as we had hoped and expected.

Groundwork’s national conference (originally scheduled for October 2013) featured Wallkill River NWR as an important partner for the second year in a row. The refuge hosted their 2012 conference for a day that included the release of a red-tailed hawk, canoeing several miles of the Wallkill River, and Groundwork-led conversations around environmental justice, service, youth development, and the importance of community. The refuge values Groundwork as a primary partner in our efforts to connect with urban communities. The Groundwork model – whereby trusts are embedded within urban communities in need of renewal; draw local youth and community members into the improvement and stewardship of environmental resources that instill community pride; and engage local business, government, non-profits and communities in creating economically and environmentally sustainable improvements; is a perfect springboard for our efforts to connect with urban youth. Members of Groundwork’s youth programs – students both paid and volunteering – are motivated, bright, ambitious, and dedicated to the work they do. Groundwork’s determination to provide these students with “stepping stones of engagement” that connect principles of conservation stewardship at the local and landscape level, and provide job training and exposure to natural resource careers, lays the groundwork (no pun intended) that allows refuge staff to step right in and connect with urban communities and urban youth on “Day 1”. Youth visits to the refuge provide us with a skilled and dedicated workforce ready to tackle invasive species removal or small-scale construction projects; they gain a rare and treasured opportunity to expand their world view far beyond the urban experience. The experience is value-added for both partners, and the refuge looks forward to growing this partnership in 2014.

Contact Info: Marilyn Kitchell, 973-702-7266, Marilyn_Kitchell@fws.gov