So…it is more work to make a blog than I had anticipated, but I was inspired to make one final post about the trip upon the event of having passed the trusty (or not) Focus to another family. Jasper and I got so used to being on the road, we made a pact to not let 6 weeks go by without getting out of town. We’ve been able to keep that promise for more than a year, only breaking it in the present due to new school obligations and inclement weather. Due to the commuting requirements of my new job, I invested in a new car, and the organization Wheels 4 Hope found a family who can make good use of the Focus. Maybe the map of our cross country trip will inspire Lakesha and her children to explore this wonderful country, and beyond! Click on the itinerary links below for a map of the route and a list of the places and people we visited.
None of them know precisely why they were chosen to be there, but the youth of the 2014 cohort of the Appalachian Media Institute (AMI) in Whitesburg, Kentucky, were glad it happened. AMI is an annual program of Appalshop, which works to empower people and improve the environment in Appalachia through media. Appalshop produces a radio station, WMMT, documentaries, theater, and leadership development programs.
The youth and the peer trainers in this year’s AMI all are from nearby mountain towns in Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia. Even though they are from similar areas, they are a diverse group. Destiny attends Alice Lloyd College, and A.J. attends Berea College — both are Kentucky schools where all the students work in exchange for education. Kris grew up in a commune. Oakley makes eerie movies. They all believe that places like Pine Mountain in the Appalachians are some of the most beautiful spots in the world.
Nine of the youth were living together in a big wooden house over the course of the eight week program, learning about each other and gaining self-confidence and independence while studying documentary-making. Several of the youth had never slept in a room with someone outside of their family, and the experience of sharing a house made them feel better about living in a dorm during college. Many of of the youth felt like this summer, they had met people who truly accepted them for the first time.
Each youth works on one of three documentaries: Skate to Escape, about youth who visit a skate park to escape their problems, We Were Soldiers, chronicling the experiences of veterans of three wars, and A Little Town in the Mountains, a look at how the town of Whitesburg is adjusting to the demise of the coal industry.
When they finished their experience at AMI, some participants were returning to high school, some were headed to college, and a few didn’t have specific plans. No matter where they ended up, however, they felt they had become part of a new family that was created in Whitesburg.
It was late afternoon and the sun was high and hot over Lexington, Kentucky. Thirteen-year-olds Zoe and Olivia and some younger members in their homeschool Girl Scout troop gazed forlornly at the plants growing in their troop’s vegetable plots in the backyard of a church. Although they had harvested a bumper crop of tomatoes the week before, something was getting at their squash, and promising flowers were not fruiting.
To help them figure out how to raise their crops organically, their parents contacted Ryan Koch of Seedleaf, a local organization focusing on nourishing the community by growing, cooking, sharing and recycling food. Seedleaf manages a number of community gardens, offers cooking and food preservation classes, teaches children how to choose and advocate for healthy food, and runs a composting program serving local restaurants.
Fortunately, Ryan knew just what to do. Squatting beside the ailing plant, he pulled out a pocket knife and poked at the stem where it emerged from the soil. A light-brown mass, the texture of sawdust, crumbled from the stem — a tell-tale sign of the squash vine borer. Ryan carefully sliced along the stem for a couple of inches until he found the caterpillar. He warned the girls of a grisly scene before slicing through the grub, but nobody flinched. They were more worried about the plant, so Ryan assured them that they were likely to be able to save the plant if they buried the stem in healthy soil. He also suggested ways to help prevent the insect in future crops, for example by enriching the soil with compost to help plants grow stronger and more resistant, and introducing plants that repel insects, like garlic.
Ryan stood up and stretched, and then the group moved over to the tomatoes. Checking for bugs, they found a juicy green tomato hornworm. Apparently, the someone found it attractive, because little white wasp larvae were crowded along its back. Ryan explained that the wasp larvae would kill the tomato worm before it could do more damage to the plant, so they let it be. Yum!
If you could get $500 to improve something in your town’s environment, what would you spend it on? That’s the question Carl Briedenbach was answering in an assignment for his 9th grade English class in Boise, Idaho. Imagine his surprise when the city of Boise awarded him $500 toward a set of steps he proposed to build in order to help kayakers access the Boise River without eroding the riverbank!
The funds came from the city’s Youth Enviroguard mini-grant program, designed to get youth invested in their community. Over the years, youth who have received the grants have used the funds to leverage additional donations in order to build native gardens at their schools, a rain garden at the VA hospital, and a horticultural therapy space at Allumbaugh House, a shelter for people who are having problems with mental illness or drugs.
Carl was a cross-country runner, and when he ran on the riverside trail, he noticed erosion in areas where boaters would scramble down the bank to get into the water. Grant in hand, Carl figured he would complete the steps over the summer — but it ended up taking three years! When he began the process of getting permission to do the work, he found that Trout Unlimited, an organization that preserves rivers, already had projects going on along the river. Carl had to negotiate with Trout Unlimited, the Ada County government, and even the US Army Corps of Engineers in order to get the steps build. In addition, because heavy machinery ended up being needed, he got Rock Placing Company to actually install the steps!
“It took so much more work than I expected, and sometimes I spent more time on this project than I did on my classes,” said Carl, who is now studying civil engineering, environmental studies and GIS at Boise State. “It showed me how much school is different from what the real work is like, when you are dealing with actual projects, and what it’s like communicating with all kinds of people.”
While working on the project occasionally caused Carl’s high school grades to dip, the contacts he made have helped him get good jobs. This summer he interns with the Ada County Highway District, monitoring pollutant loads and analyzing their effect on the Boise River’s water quality. He continues to maintain the steps, and is pleased to have designed a project that serves people who use the river in a number of ways as well as the fish that live in it.
When we got out of the car in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, we had to move s-l-o-o-o-w-l-y. No, we weren’t being held up by a bank robber. We were trying to avoid bothering a swarm of BEES! We were joining about 15 high school members of the Milwaukee Conservation Leadership Corps (MCLC) who were learning about the importance of bees to the environment. Staff from Beepods assured us that if we move slowly and gently, the bees wouldn’t bother us, and as a reward, we all got to taste some fresh honey right off the hive, which was sweet and warm!
The teens in MCLC spend six weeks helping improve Milwaukee’s environment by participating in projects like trail maintenance, watershed restoration and litter cleanup, and developing job skills like delivering presentations. They watch movies like “The Story of Stuff” and “Forks Over Knives” to learn about how personal behavior impacts the environment, and take field trips to places like Beepods.
Aaliyah, a high school senior, said that when she learned how little fresh water there is to go around, it really hit her how important environmental conservation is. Milwaukee borders Lake Michigan, one of the five Great Lakes, the world’s largest source of freshwater. Aaliyah feels it’s important to focus on saving water resources. “It takes 600 gallons of water just to make one pair of jeans. This program has opened our eyes. It’s not just the money we earn. If they stopped the paycheck I’d still be here. ” MCLC has also helped her change her attitude about bugs. “I used to want to get rid of all the bugs in the world. Now I see that bees are in a network — we need them for things like milk and nuts. If we lose one resource, we actually lose a lot.”
Quintien, a high school junior who wants to study evolutionary biology, or perhaps entymology, concurred. “The talk today about propolis inspired me. Nature helps people in many ways. I want more people to be open to learning about their impact on the environment.”
Students Aliana, Fie and Derrick said the program also helped them organize their time in the summer and avoid wasting it by sleeping in and playing video games all day. These students have returned for their second summer, and they found that having participated last summer helped them in their science classes and in speaking up in general. “I used to be shy,” Aliana said. “But they told me that if I don’t speak up, I won’t get what I want.”
Harvian, also back for his second summer, has enjoyed getting out of his comfort zone, learning that “cheap doesn’t always mean good”, and getting away from television. “My friends call me a lumberjack,” he said. “But I’m proud to be helping out the environment.
When Asia Dorsey was in middle school, she spent a lot of time talking about bathrooms. Asia was participating in Denver’s Earth Force program. Earth Force helps young people learn how they can improve the environment in their community. Most of the water that we use in our households goes down the bathroom drains. Asia decided to help people use less water in their toilets. She obtained donations of bricks, put them in Ziplock bags along with instructions on how to place them in the toilet tanks, and distributed them to the public.
Now, Asia is back in Denver, leading a new generation of teens through the Earth Force process. Denver has a new initiative to get kids to be more active and eat more healthily. But, what if you don’t have a good place to play or work out, or to get healthy food? Some of the youth Asia has worked with have pointed out that the basketball court outside the Swansea Recreation Center doesn’t have lights, so no-one can play after dark. The youth are in the process of requesting that the city install lights for the court.
The youth also participate at the GrowHaus, where they learn about nutrition, farming, and composting, and help local residents create vegetable gardens in their backyards.
So its raining. Mom and I are sitting in the car, at 2 in the morning with our sleeping bags and pillows soaking wet stuffed in the backseat. The forecast for tonight was slight chance of thunderstorm. Not the tent flooding and thunderless lighting like nobody’s business. I would say its heat lightning, but its only 70 degrees out. Its really eerie looking, every half second you can see everything. When I first stepped out of the tent, it was so bright, I thought the full moon was out, but no.
“At about 1:30am, thunder crashing so loudly and rain was pelting the tent. I looked at you sleeping so soundly and I didn’t want you to miss anything so I shook you awake and I shouted: ‘how can you sleep though this?” and you lifted you head, and looked at me with groggy eyes and fell right back to sleep. I pulled the sleeping bag over me to protect me from the increasing large drops of water. And finally when the rain stopped, I stepped outside ankle deep water, that’s when I knew, we had to get out of there.”
The rain will supposedly rap up by the morning, continuing into a nice sunny day in the mid 80s. We are not camping tonight!