My last few weeks have been focused on a new task- summer camp! John Heinz put on two weeks of summer camp and I was delighted to be part of the team working with those kids! The refuge puts together two weeks of camp, one for kids from Southwest Philadelphia and one open to the greater Philadelphia area, and the two weeks really opened my eyes to what community engagement and visitor services can look like. The goal of the camps was to introduce kids to the refuge, which is in Southwest Philadelphia, but so many people do not visit. When we are able to get kids hooked on the refuge early, we get them interested in conservation work, in spending time outside, and in really being present in their lives. It feels like an uphill battle to get kids off their screens and enjoying the world around them these days, but watching these kids gave me hope for the future. I was able to watch some of them see their first deer, walk really quietly when we were on a bird walk, and shoot their first bullseyes with arrows, all without even asking to look at screens. They were disconnecting from devices and reconnecting with nature and I hope that this will motivate them to do similar things in the future.
I had a conversation with an incredible person who works for a different organization and he said this kind of work is like planting seeds, we don’t typically get to see if a tree grows or see if the kids come back and enjoy the space for a long time, but we can predict that some will grow into beautiful trees and that makes it all worth it. Planting those seeds is a great thing not only for the kids themselves, but also for the rest of their families who will be encouraged to visit the refuge by their families and the community as a whole who will see the actions taken to engage the kids and their families and hopefully be encouraged to participate as well. I used to think community engagement was pretty limited in what it could be, but now I see that it can be anything that gets people excited about the work you do and the space you inhabit.
I am so excited to do more community outreach and spend more time creating beautiful experiences for the people of Philadelphia that they will hopefully carry throughout their lives.
Agency: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Program: US Fish & Wildlife Service
Location: John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum