Bugs, heat, hard work turn into eco-careers at SCA

Marty Levine
Next Pittsburgh
Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Get a bunch of city kids out in the park to learn trail maintenance and it can get unpleasant rapidly—or it can be downright inspiring.

“It’s hard work, it’s hot and it’s buggy,” says Jennifer Meccariello Layman, who directs the Pittsburgh chapter of the national Student Conservation Association (SCA), which placed 102 local high-schoolers from underserved neighborhoods in outdoor summer jobs this month. “They’re wearing long pants, hard hats and boots. They can get a little grouchy because of that. Some kids figure out, ‘I don’t want to work outside.’ Other kids figure out that they love it.”

These 14- to 19-year-olds are fixing up city and regional parks by improving trails, plucking out invasive species and planting trees. They’re also helping to recover vacant lots and greenspaces in Hazelwood and Glen Hazel, adding rain barrels to Lincoln-Lemington homes and maintaining food and flower gardens.

“It’s the first job for most of them,” says Layman. “They are not very connected to the outdoors or the environment in the parks, so it’s a new experience. By the end of the summer they are a well-oiled machine … and there’s a definite pride in what they’ve accomplished.”

Now in its 15th year, the Pittsburgh SCA aims to help the teens learn other skills too, with work-readiness lessons offered amid the time outdoors. Those doing vacant lot remediation are even documenting their work with Gigapan cameras this year for the first time. Gigapans create digital panoramic images, so the kids will gain lessons in STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and math—while making a record of their work for Hazelwood and Glen Hazel to preserve and display.