When most college students picture their future careers, they don’t typically include drawing pictures with scented markers, singing repeat-after-me songs, or playing games involving both chases and charades. While these activities may be enjoyable and entertaining, one must be realistic. I mean really, what organization in their right mind would let you have a “real” job that’s so much fun? Well my friends, think again. This summer, surrounded by the cool breezes and gorgeous mountain vistas of Asheville, I spent 11 weeks working as a full-time intern at Dogwood and discovering just how much fun following your passions can actually be.
As Dogwood’s first intern dedicated primarily to youth outreach, I spent the majority of my time traveling to summer camps around WNC and talking to elementary and middle school kids about forest protection. I reinvented hobbies from my own childhood to create a fun and engaging presentation, which included a song about Venus flytraps (watch it on Dogwood’s YouTube Channel) and a game about fire in the Green Swamp. I tried to create an atmosphere of “less presentation, more conversation” in order to really ensnare the kids’ attention; we talked about why forests are special and important, the impact of the paper industry, and Dogwood’s current campaign against KFC. Then, the kids drew pictures asking KFC to stop destroying endangered forests, which will be sent to the company later this year (check out some of their super creative art here). The rest of my work included creating new youth activist materials, helping with campaign outreach at summer music festivals, and suggesting further opportunities for Dogwood’s youth outreach program.
Now, as I reflect on my summer experiences, I see innumerable ways to quantify my efforts. I could measure my summer in numbers, counting out the 447 pieces of original kid’s artwork I collected during the course of more than 30 presentations to kids ranging in age from 5-15. I could measure it by the workplace skills I gained (perhaps most notably how to use the downstairs water cooler), the colleagues (more accurately, friends) I made, the colorfulness of the Kid’s Activist Packet I created, or even the degree of messy handwriting in petition signatures I amassed while talking to festival-goers. However, I think my greatest accomplishment relates to the further implications of my interactions with hundreds of local kids. The kids came from a huge variety of backgrounds and situations; many ate at KFC regularly and had minimal knowledge about the environment. While it has been difficult to gauge the impact of my short visits, I hope that my words and questions inspired them in any small way. I hope they walked away from our interactions thinking that learning about forests is FUN. And, most importantly, I hope they understood that they can not only take action to change the world, but that their actions make a huge difference!
Ultimately, I LOVE teaching and interacting with kids, especially when I can get them excited about environmental activism! I have learned that I still have a lot more to learn, but also that I have the passion and skills to be an effective and excited environmental educator. My career goals have been both confirmed and clarified throughout this summer. As I return to Durham and Duke for the school year, I am driven to seek more opportunities related to environmental education and youth outreach. I am so glad to have had this experience in the non-profit world, and can see clearly how Dogwood, with its strong vision, enthusiastic volunteers, and dedicated staff, can create incredible positive change. Most of all, I owe a HUGE thanks to the Dogwood Alliance and Fred Stanback, both of whom made this opportunity for growth and exploration possible.
May the forest be with you