As kids are more likely to look at a smart phone screen than a sunset these days, it’s harder to ensure that the next generation has an appreciation for local wilderness and open space. In the City of Irvine, a youth-oriented volunteer program is helping by encouraging kids to be environmentally-aware and give back to nature.
The Middle School Youth Action Team program is “an after-school community service based program where students have an opportunity to be actively involved in their community,” according to the city’s website, and one of the areas of volunteer focus is the environment. This group has partnered with Irvine Ranch Conservancy to provide local teens a way to give back and learn about preserving and restoring local wildlife habitat.
Students from the Middle School Youth Action Team have helped Irvine Ranch Conservancy staff and volunteers with various restoration projects during 20 separate volunteer events around the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks. About 250 young volunteers have contributed more than 375 hours of work to help restore native habitat.
These volunteer opportunities “give the students something productive and healthy to do after school,” said Stacy Martin, the Youth Action Team Site Coordinator at Venado Middle School. “While working with the Conservancy, these kids get the chance to see their environment and places they wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to see, and get to help beautify these areas.”
So far, students from South Lake, Venado, Lakeside, Jeffrey Trail, Rancho San Joaquin and Sierra Vista middle schools have participated in volunteer activities led by the Conservancy. Several of these young students have even come back to participate in scheduled public restoration activities on their own time, often bringing family members. There are plans for volunteers from the city’s High School Youth Action Team program to begin volunteer work with the Conservancy this year.
During these hour-and-a-half long volunteer activities, in addition to planting, weeding and watering, the YAT participants often engage in a natural history lesson where they learn about birds or other local wildlife while enjoying a short hike. “It is important for the kids to be able to see the land and wildlife that they are helping to protect and preserve,” said Brittany Mendelsohn, the Conservancy’s Community Stewardship Coordinator who oversees the ongoing partnership with the Youth Action Team.
The Conservancy provides public volunteer stewardship activities for the community on a regular basis. Individuals, families and small groups are welcome to participate in these scheduled activities. Click here for a description of many of the ongoing habitat restoration projects around the Landmarks, and click here to register for one of the many upcoming volunteer land stewardship opportunities.