The green is turning brown, the white is turning blue. But can one student really make a difference? Six months ago, before I got involved with Groundwork Bridgeport, I would have said no.
I could never have imagined the transformation I would make in those few short months. If I am being completely honest, one of the things I found most exciting when I first became aware of Groundwork was the idea of having a “job.” I knew that it would be a unique opportunity for personal growth and exposure that could shape my future. That’s to say, when I began my journey with Groundwork, I was focused on my own world and personal gain. But I grew each day, whether we were working at a National Park, restoring a rain garden, doing beach cleanup, volunteering at events, or planting trees. And after spending the summer working with the Groundwork Green Team, I learned that there were bigger, more relevant things outside of my initial fixations. I began to see a new future that involves teamwork; a few passionate individuals working together to make change.
At the start of the summer, the Green Team headed to Weir Farm National Park, where we worked on garden restoration and trail maintenance. We had to rely on one another to each do our part in order to accomplish the great task that was in front of us. I learned many invaluable skills during my time at Weir, but the biggest thing I took away from it was the importance of teamwork. During exhausting workdays, the Green Team members kept a positive energy and a there was a constant reminder of the importance of the work we were doing.
While working at Weir Farm, I had the opportunity to be truly close to nature for the first time in my life. I had never set foot in a National Park until the day I showed up to work with the Green Team. This was a common trend among my peers. Most of us had no idea that a place like that existed in our own state. We had been limited to our own communities, focusing only on what was prevalent to our day to day lives. At Weir Farm, we discovered that there are much bigger things than we know.
After my experiences at Weir, I eagerly applied to go to another National Park, this time for the Groundwork USA national conferences in the Rocky Mountains. This time around, the most exciting part about this opportunity was the potential to meet people who were also motivated to make a better world. During the conferences, I got the opportunity to participate in conversations about difficult topics such as environmental justice and what Groundwork USA could do to promote it. By definition, environmental justice is “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” I believe that everyone is born with the right to be exposed to nature and the right to protect it. However, often times, power plants and other harmful institutions are placed in low income minority neighborhoods. How can people claim their right to the environment if they are surrounded by industrial turmoil? This issue ties in with another problem we discussed at the National Conference; a lack of diversity in the National Park Service. The result of this is, not surprisingly, a lack of low income minority visitors at the National Parks.
The discussions about these issues influenced a huge part of my life. I’ve been a Girl Scout for eleven years, and the time has come for me to earn my Gold Award, the highest achievement in Girl Scouting. After working for Groundwork, I feel empowered to do something big. I believe that, in order to make a sustainable world, we must educate people so that they are willing to sustain it. This means we need to work towards an end to environmental injustice. One idea I have for my Gold Award project is infiltrating schools with programs to bring students to the National Parks. Everyone has an equal right to experience the nature of Our Parks. Giving students of all backgrounds the opportunity to experience nature the way I did is a major key to creating a generation that will be willing to work towards an equitable and sustainable world.
When I first started, I had no idea what the mission of Groundwork was or how that mission could influence me. Now it is perfectly clear; Groundwork’s mission is to empower this generation to bring positive change to the physical environment. I’ve realized that I have the power to lead my peers because I now understand that yes, one student can make a difference, and even a small group can make a huge impact.