Students cap summer of planting trees, clearing trails

Stamford Advocate
Friday, August 13, 2010

By Frank MacEachern

Clearing brush and working outside in the summer heat can be challenging, said a Greenwich student who spent the last six weeks working in the town’s parks.

“It was tough,” said Nick Ambrogio, 16. “It was really hot this summer and we had to pick up trees and tree stumps, but we worked through it.”

Ambrogio was part of a group of 10 Greenwich teenagers who worked this summer clearing trails and planting trees in a program jointly sponsored and paid for by the town and the Charlestown, N.H.-based Student Conservation Association. The association engages high school and college students in projects that improve and preserve the natural environment.

The Greenwich young people began their work July 6 and completed it Friday.

The students are graduates of the Greenwich Social Services Department’s Youth Conservation Project. In that program, 14- to 17-year-old students work for two weeks in the summer to maintain and beautify the town’s parks and recreation areas.

The students chosen for the program are ones who showed initiative and drive while in the Youth Conservation Project, said Christina Nappi, social services’ youth services coordinator.

Joining Ambrogio were Alex Cole, 15, Colin Ng, 16, Jeni Winslow, 16, Nina Grandinetti, 16, Kathleen Sanchez, 17, Sammy Santarosa, 16, Walter Matas, 16, and Shaun Parry, 15.

Parry’s mother Lisa said she noticed Shaun adapted well to the daily rigor of getting up early to go off to work.

“I see a lot of changes in him; he’s more mature,” she said during a gathering of the students, family members and SCA leaders Friday at Greenwich Point. He would turn down friends’ requests to get together at night because he needed to be ready for work in the morning, she said.

The students were joined by a pair of SCA team leaders, Anna Speed, 21, of New Canaan, and Jason Schinis, 22, of Ansonia. The program coordinator is Khadija Bshara, 30.

Ted Mammone, a foreman with the town’s Parks and Recreation Department, helped the students, including working the chain saw.

He said the students were motivated to learn.

“They are interested in everything new that you had to offer,” Mammone said.

The shift was 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Each student earned a little more than $1,600 in the summer.

Last year the organization conducted a three-week pilot program in Greenwich and picked up 70 percent of the cost with the balance coming from the town. The project created a trail through the Helen Binney Kitchel Nature Preserve in Old Greenwich.

“This year they came back to clean it up,” joked Bruce Spaman, the town’s superintendent of parks and trees, referring to the damage caused by the March nor’easter.

The students also planted trees on Greenwich Point and worked on clearing trails in the Montgomery Pinetum nature preserve in Cos Cob.

The town appreciates the help, Spaman said.

“They fill a niche; we can improve these areas that we can’t quite get to due to our workload now,” he said.

The organization operates in Stamford and wanted to establish a presence in Greenwich, said Brett Morrison, the SCA’s Northeast development officer.

“Eventually we want to have four crews but right now we have the funding for one crew,” he said.

Each crew has 10 students and two team leaders.

The SCA had four crews in Stamford last year but budget cuts in the city cut that down to one crew this summer, Morrison said.

This year, Greenwich and the SCA split 50-50 on the cost of the approximately $45,000 program.

Spaman said the town’s money came from a fund generated by fines of residents and developers who illegally cut down trees. There is about $40,000 in that fund, he said.

The SCA raised funds through corporate donations, such as Northeast Utilities and GE, but had to dip into its own money to pay the balance as fundraising fell short, Morrison said.