The Power of Washington’s Open Park Spaces

Huffington Post
Tuesday, July 30, 2013

SCA Youth Programs Manager's powerful piece on growing up around Washington's Parks

Growing up in the Petworth section of the District of Columbia, I was 10 years old before I saw my first real park. I didn’t realize at the time that it would be my salvation from the drugs and violence that were ravaging my community. It would have been preposterous then to think that within 16 years I would be running youth programs in parks throughout the metropolitan area — and offering the same extraordinary opportunities that I had to countless others.

The defining moment for me came in the form of a neighbor who regularly walked her dog and who one day asked if I and several friends wanted to walk with her to Rock Creek Park. We knew her well, because of her dog, and, while it was not a short walk, we readily accepted. When she saw how much we enjoyed the park, she began researching programs that would enable us to spend time there.

She discovered the Student Conservation Association (SCA), an organization with which I have been associated ever since — and the organization that made it possible for me to be the first person in my family to go to college. Headquartered in Arlington, Va., SCAbuilds new generations of conservation leaders and in the midst of Petworth saw in me a conservationist.

Through SCA, I became a Junior Ranger in the National Park Service and then a volunteer at the Rock Creek Park Nature Center doing puppet shows. At 15 years old, I was an SCA crew member in Rock Creek Park — volunteering to work on erosion control, sandbagging creek beds, and maintaining trails. I stayed involved with SCA while at Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School. I participated in one paid local summer crew and volunteered on one three-week national crew at Salmon Challis National Forest in Idaho. I also spent time volunteering in the SCA’s school-year Conservation Leadership Corps Program, and I interned in the office for a summer.

When it came time to apply for college, I had 750 volunteer service hours with SCA and a glowing recommendation — more than enough to make up for the disadvantages of growing up in an underserved community. Mary Baldwin College trusted SCA and saw a conservationist in Petworth, too.