Greenagers Offers Youth Nature-Based Work Amidst Pandemic
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A local youth environment community group has not let COVID-19 halt its stride.
Greenagers has continued its commitment to outdoor programming amidst the novel coronavirus pandemic to offer teenagers and young adults nature-based work and socially distant connections.
Executive Director Will Conklin and Conservation Director Elia Del Molino felt it was appropriate to extend this programming into the fall and winter this year so that members will continue to have meaningful and safe work and connections.
"We are so grateful for companies and organizations that utilize our services and give us work to teach and learn about the importance of our natural resources and environmental stewardship in the Berkshires and beyond," Conklin said.
Greenagers' mission of "youth working to strengthen the environment and our community" has pioneered a youth employment program in the Berkshires and has furthered youth volunteering and climate change education in the county.
It provides paid employment programs, internships, and apprenticeships to about 300 teens and young adults from about 20 schools so they can engage in meaningful work in environmental conservation, sustainable farming, and natural resource management.
"This work provides the opportunity to better a community, while also making a difference in the lives of the youth in the area," said Conklin.
Now more than ever, the organization believes its duty is to serve as a conduit of connection for the young population, as schools pivot to hybrid-learning models and families are often contained within the household for work, school, and recreation time.
Private investment group Mill Town Capital has partnered with Greenagers for the last two years on several projects including rehabilitating trails of Springside Park, trail building at Bosquet Mountain and installing raised garden beds in Dalton.
Managing Director Caroline Holland said Mill Town was pleased to work with Greenagers again this year and this collaboration has been mutually beneficial.
"Their work is great, it really is complementary to our projects on the outdoor recreation side," she said.
Mill Town worked with Greenagers to shape the scope of this project and provided funding to cover the cost of labor for youth crews.
Holland said providing a wage to the youth translates the qualitative life skills of hard work and teamwork into professional quantitative skills.
She also noted that, in the scope of youth employment, these positions are quite exciting and appealing.
Holland credited Conklin and Del Molino for the operational adjustments they made to the program so it is COVID-19 safe and for providing a safe way for teenagers and young adults to get out of the house.
"I think this year is even more important," she said. "because so many kids and teens are lacking normal outlets for socialization and having normal jobs to work and feel a sense of accomplishment, so it felt more important than ever to help facilitate and give them projects."
They have designed trail mapping to be very easy so that the Greenagers crew can do it alone or in pairs with easy social distancing, making for a nice outdoor connection and a sense of pride in contributing to a project.
Holland said the program's trail-building efforts have been very useful to Mill Town, and that they have a wealth of trail building and trail rehabilitation projects in the Central Berkshires area to keep the Greenagers crew busy in 2021.
Del Molino has been involved with Greenagers since 2012, beginning as a crew leader that evolved into a trails coordinator, and then into his current position of conservation director.
As conservation director, he runs the trail crews, supervises them, works on logistics, grant writing, fundraising, and conducts site visits to figure out what needs to be done in the woods.
Del Molino said that because of COVID-19, Greenagers abbreviated this year's program for a number of reasons, but mostly for the safety of participants.
This past summer, Greenagers had about 45 youth working on the trails, as compared to last summer when there were 90.
Along with having smaller crews, Del Molino said the crews were very conscious of social distancing on the trails, not sharing and washing down tools, and staying aware of each other during meal times so they could keep doing the work they love.
Initially, there was some anxiety around participants following Greenager's strict COVID-19 protocols, considering they aged from 14 to 24, but Del Molino said this year the trail crews especially buckled down and were willing to do whatever they were asked to make it a safe work environment.
"More than any other year, the kids were really great," he said.
About 95 percent of Greenagers members are from ages 15 to 20 and oftentimes there is a crew leader just out of college who ranges from ages 21 to 24.
Del Molino said he received a great number of calls from parents asking for their child to be involved in the program because they need to get out of the house followed by a call from the child asking to be a part of the program for the same reason.
"We like to think that we are planting seeds of stewardship," he said. "So we like to engage local kids on their local conservation properties so they can experience what's in their own back yard."
Greenagers spent this and last summer at Springside Park doing various trail projects and are actively planning on having at least the same number of participants next year.
Del Molino said the winter season is all about planning for the next year.
Greenagers also partners with Flying Cloud Institute, Berkshire South Regional Community Center, Volunteers in Medicine, and Flying Deer Nature Center to offer Community Learning in the Berkshires. The goal of CLuB is to offer local parents a low to no cost remote learning site for their children because of the COVID-19 virus forcing schools to adopt a hybrid learning model and leaving parents short for childcare.
CLuB includes full-day supervision from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and skilled, enriching assistance with school assigned academic work. This program places an emphasis on outdoor experiential learning and the use of outdoor classrooms in all seasons.
Greenagers plans on serving 125 children between host sites Berkshire South Regional Community Center in Great Barrington and April Hill Conservation and Education Center in Egremont.