By SEAN McCARTHY, Fall River Spirit correspondent
The environmental movement is galvanizing young people around the world, and this summer a group of area students learned that they could make positive contributions to a healthier planet by becoming involved in their own surroundings.
The South Coast Youth Corps, a group of six local teens, devoted a significant part of their summer to work with the Trustees of Reservations in Fall River, earning a full-time income for doing work such as planting trees, growing organic vegetables, clearing walking trails, and testing the water supply of Fall River.
Fifteen-year-old Jacob Chase of Fall River, and 17-year old Chelsie Sandner of Somerset were two of the students who put in 10 weeks tending the 500-acre area in Copicut Woods under the direction of coordinator Linton Harrington.
And while the program has concluded for the students, the knowledge and skills they have learned could assist them throughout their lives and may even inspire them to become more involved in their communities in an environmental capacity.
"Our main goal is to expose urban youth to environmental jobs," Harrington says. "We can be a starter program for youth who want to go to college and study in fields such as natural resources or environmental science. They can come back in the summer and work as staff or partake in national programs such as the Student Conservation Association working in national parks and protected areas.
"The most important skill that these students have learned is leadership. They're learning that they can go on to be leaders in their community and do work that really matters."
Most of the participants had little experience in the outdoors and the environmental movement.
"I learned about hard work and responsibility," Chase says. "I haven't had a lot of exposure to the outdoors and I was able to learn about an area of nature that covers almost half of Fall River and how important it is."
Chase is a student at Diman Vocational High School where he studies electronics. He says that working outdoors is much better than most other teenage summer jobs.
"I learned a lot about animals and plants through this and I'm hoping to do it again. More young people should learn about this beautiful area."
Sandner said that this summer program has her thinking about studying environmental science in college.
"I'm more interested than I was in protecting the beautiful landscapes in this area," she says. "I'd like to see more programs about the environment in my town and in my school.
"I'm going to suggest this program to my friends and definitely do it again next summer."
Harrington says that this year's crew of workers will have an impact that will last beyond this summer.
"The work that these young people have done contributes directly to their community," Harrington says. "This property is open to the public and they're creating and repairing things so that others can enjoy them."
The six workers were chosen from a field of a dozen applicants from throughout the region. There was an application process and an interview process. The organization was looking for responsibility, maturity and hard-working people who could work in all kinds of weather. They also looked for people who participated in clubs and sports and do well academically.
The program began in 2003 as volunteer work and has had paid positions for the last five years. The funding comes from the Robert F. Stoico Foundation, the Island Foundation, and the United Way of Greater New Bedford.
This year's Youth Corps also included students from Dartmouth and New Bedford. In the past they have also had participants from Freetown and Westport.
The Trustees of Reservations is a group of more than 100,000 people who are active in celebrating and protecting the outdoor beauty and charm of Massachusetts for public use, enjoyment, and scenic and ecological value. Their scope is more than 100 sites, totaling 25,000 acres with a mission that has lasted for over 100 years.
For more information on free public programs in Fall River contact www.thetrustees.org or call (508) 679-2115.