Learning Life Skills at the Columbia FWCO
BY AMBER MASTERS, COLUMBIA, FWCO
Once again, the Columbia Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) is providing a summer job to local youth through the Columbia Parks and Recreation’s Career Awareness and Related Experience (CARE) Program. The CARE program provides work experiences to at-risk youth by partnering with local business to create job opportunities for high school students. Many of the interns have never had a job and would have had a difficult time securing employment without any work experience. CARE’s mission is to provide job opportunities, guidance, and assistance during employment and ensure that the interns are getting the most out of their experiences.
This summer, Austin Freitag joins our fisheries crew. Austin is 17 and will be a senior in high school this fall. He has had experience working for his stepdad’s landscaping business, but is proud to have his first “real” job. Austin is particularly excited to be a part of the Columbia FWCO because he plans to pursue a career in biology or natural resources management. In working with the USFWS, Austin gains great career experience, learns basic job skills and responsibilities, as well as being able to talk to biologists about his future and how to accomplish his goals.
Austin started working for us at the end of June. At first, he was very nervous and uncomfortable; now, however, his confidence around his supervisors and coworkers has grown. Austin is eager to do even the most mundane tasks with great care and attention to quality. His ability to be self-motivated is more like that of an experienced worker than a teenager with his first job. He requires no supervision and very little direction. When the rest of us are hot, tired and grumpy, his attitude is one of incredible cheer and gratitude. It is clear that in his short time here, Austin has grown and learned valuable work and life skills that he would not have received anywhere else. He has finished much of the necessary net-mending and shop work in record time. In fact, it has been a challenge to constantly find new jobs for him because he completes his work so quickly.
In July, Austin was able to help out with a Nature Camp event hosted by the Columbia FWCO where he helped kids ages 4-9 during a cave tour and stream bed exploration. Austin was often more enthusiastic, inquisitive and excited than the kids were. He asked many questions to the biologists leading the cave tour. Once in the stream, Austin eagerly taught the kids how to catch crayfish and look for stream invertebrates under rocks. It was a treat to have Austin showing the group that even the big kids still get excited about the critters outside.
Over all, the Columbia’s involvement with the CARE program has been a successful experience. In addition to Austin joining us as a CARE intern this year, two of our former interns have come aboard as contract employees for the summer. Andrew Murphy (CARE 2006) and Molly Vornholt (CARE 2014) are the newest members of our Pallid Sturgeon Population Assessment and Monitoring Program. The CARE Program gives the Columbia FWCO a unique opportunity to inspire youth by allowing them to directly experience natural resources work. We hope that his time here has many positive impacts on Austin’s future and inspires him to pursue his interest in biology, continue learning about the Missouri River ecosystems and challenges and share his knowledge with his friends and family.