by Michelle Gilmore
Nearly 150 people who love Mother Earth gave back to her in Pittsburgh on Saturday, April 25, when the Student Conservation Association’s Three Rivers Branch hosted its annual Earth Day service project.
SCA program participants, alumni, and staff volunteered in Wilkinsburg at Linear Park and Hunter Park with members of the local community including Vanessa McCarthy Johnson, Wilkinsburg council member and chair of the Parks and Recreation Committee.
Nick Williams, member of the Conservation Leadership Corps Trailblazers program, said, “I live in Edgewood, a neighborhood adjacent to Wilkinsburg. It’s an area I go through a lot, and there’s certainly work to be done.”
The group worked on over 100 yards of trail; planted ten flats of flowers; and collected 48 abandoned tires, too many garbage bags to count, a few decomposing shoes, and one non-biodegradable record turntable.
Locally focused projects like neighborhood park restoration have greater effects than many people typically realize, said Williams. “If there isn’t a trail [in Linear Park], people can’t walk that way to work or school. So the work we’re doing makes it a usable space, but also the conversations people have while working can encourage and spread ideas about using it wisely and maintaining it…. It’s kind of like planting a seed. The idea can spread throughout the rest of the community, and similar projects can start afterwards.”
CLC Trailblazers Member Molly Tonsor said that the work impacts the community both environmentally and socially, and especially for youth involved.
It’s an opportunity to both be in touch with the land and positively contribute to developing a relationship with the city, with its resources and with its parks, but also an opportunity to interact with other people in the city, not just as youth but as an intergenerational group that feeds off each other,” she said. “We can work together and have a more holistic approach towards general social questions of our community.”
And as volunteers turned soil and picked up trash, their efforts were greatly appreciated with shouts of “Thank you!” from cars, cyclists, and walkers in passing. “As the work is being done, people throughout the community who aren’t necessarily participating in the project can see it and think, ‘Oh look at all this great stuff that’s happening. All these kids are working on this project together,’” said Williams. “It’s like a real community effort to make something better, and I think it just makes everybody happier,”
For residents to see others helping their neighborhood can be encouraging, especially when those helping are youth, said Leanna Stitt, CLC program coordinator of the SCA’s Three Rivers Branch.
“I think the biggest way a project like this strikes the community is by members of the community seeing young people who they might not expect to be out there willingly volunteering heir time to the betterment of the neighborhood…. To see any glimmer of inspiration or hope means a lot more than people probably know,” said Stitt.
Williams said, “What I like especially about a project like Earth Day with the SCA is that rather than donating to a national tree planting fund, you actually work, and you do it on a local scale. And the work you do goes directly into the community and makes everything around you better.”
Environmental Studies and Politics Professor David Orr of Oberlin College found a way to summarize the benefits of service to nature in eight short words. “When we heal the earth, we heal ourselves.”