Cultivating environmental leaders

Story submitted by 2021-22 WSC AmeriCorps member Kellee B.

My name is Kellee, and I am an AmeriCorps member serving at the Seattle office of the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). My role as the Habitat Stewards Program Coordinator is to educate and empower community members by supporting our education programs like Garden for Wildlife and Eco-Schools. Through these programs, NWF has been able to support 3.5 million wildlife-friendly acres of land in backyards and at schools, places of worship, and other spaces in people’s communities.

As the Habitat Stewards Program Coordinator, I organize and host Habitat Steward trainings for community members. Over the course of two weeks, workshop attendees learn about various aspects of habitat restoration and wildlife conservation from local experts. They get hands-on opportunities to practice their newfound knowledge at stewardship events. Once the workshops have ended, the participants become Habitat Stewards who volunteer for NWF and other relevant nonprofits and organizations in conserving wildlife in a rapidly urbanizing world. In addition, I assist schools and their students with growing Schoolyard Habitats right on their campuses. Students and their teachers are part of the planning and implementing process while I gather necessary materials and serve as a guide for designing and planting the habitat.

Over the past few months, I have had the privilege to work with the Environmental Club at Bethel High School in creating a Schoolyard Habitat. The school had an unutilized courtyard that the club recognized as a potential space for a wildlife habitat. It was originally full of sparse gravel, some nonnative plant species, and plenty of sword ferns. [We] helped the students choose what native plants to place in their habitat. I designed signage and flyers for the students to reference whilst planting, and we got to work.

The Schoolyard Habitat came to fruition over the course of several weeks. I was able to interact and engage in conversation with the students while we removed unnecessary brush from the habitat, shoveled wood chips across the space, and dug holes for the plants I had brought to them. I could tell the students were empowered by having their hand in creating something that would outlast their time at the high school. These were students dedicating their free time to beautifying their campus while also benefiting local wildlife. I found out several of the students were interested in studying conservation, wildlife biology, and other related fields during the course of this project and fielded whatever questions I could from my own experience. Overall, we planted over 60 native plants in the courtyard and established another Schoolyard Habitat in Washington, bringing the total Habitats in the state to over 250.

Serving at this high school and with NWF gave me a firsthand experience in the cultivation of future environmental leaders. When we support young people in their endeavors of environmental stewardship they will feel empowered in their actions to combat the harm towards wildlife and their habitats. These events have further solidified my understanding of the importance of environmental education, both during my term as an AmeriCorps member [and] into the future in my career.