Recently, I had the pleasure of spending time on Maryland’s Eastern shore with colleagues, Akiima Price, Chief of Education Programs at the New York Restoration Project, David Greaves, the Black Employment Program Officer for the EPA, and Nick Clemons, a National Park Ranger at Assateague Island National Seashore. Hosted and organized by the Maryland Coastal Bays Program and Assateague State Park, Get Out! Get Green! Get Paid! was an important opportunity to connect with nearly 200 youth, ages 14-25, to help them consider a sustainable career and lifestyle within nature.
The Maryland Coastal Bays Program exists to protect and conserve the waters and surrounding watershed of Maryland’s coastal bays to enhance their ecological values and sustainable use for both present and future generations. Participants in the symposium included students enrolled in the Upward Bound program at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and those involved in conservation-related job programs including Coastal Stewards, the Maryland Conservation Corps, Maryland Conservation Job Corps, Youth Conservation Corps and the Chesapeake Conservation Corps.
While my colleagues and I began our weekend with presentations at the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore about our inspiration to embark on careers within the environmental field, what followed were two days filled with amazing local outdoor activities, such as fishing, kayaking, hay rides, air rifling, pontooning, exploring the coastal bays, swimming on the beach at Assateague, and best of all, great conversations and relationship building.
Carrie Samis, the Education Coordinator for Coastal Bays, really gets it, and designed a summit that was not just about talking the talk, but walking the walk. Unlike other experiences where I have come to present to a group only to leave the same day, time was planned over the weekend for my colleagues and I to get to know the program youth individually, and learn what mattered in their day-to-day lives in Delmarva, as called by locals (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia).
One Coastal Bays Steward, Tashonna Grant fast became my partner in fun, and in our time together doing recreational activities, I got a chance to observe and learn from her about pushing through obstacles. “I hate snakes,” she told me, but as we talked about the importance of wildlife in our daily lives, something clicked. And later when we had a chance to visit a nature preserve with a display of wildlife, Tashonna was among the first to handle one of the native snake species — and giggled through the experience.
But as I got to know more Coastal Stewards, I learned Tashonna’s courage to engage with nature is typical for this group, but not without careful intention and effort. Even though many of the program youth come from underserved communities, the program goes the extra mile to engage families and trusted institutions over time, such as local churches, to help foster a pathway of trust that help program youth feel supported. Importantly, these youth gain valuable work experience, participate in professional and personal development opportunities, and receive a paycheck. I also learned that many of these students later secure positions with state and federal agencies, local parks and nonprofits.
Maryland Coastal Bay’s Program has also earned the deep respect of numerous local business, and community partners through its ongoing collaboration and critical bay and wildlife stewardship. And as a result, wherever our group went, we were treated like royalty!
My deep thanks go out to the Maryland Coastal Bays Program for such a moving program. Most especially for Carrie Samis and Nick Clemons for all their tireless coordination and enthusiasm, Dave Wilson (Executive Director) for great beaching and birding; the exceedingly hospitable folks at Fager’s Island, The University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, Hazel Outdoor Discovery Center, Assateague Island National Seashore staff, ALL the amazing youth, my awesome colleagues, and each person along the journey who contributed in big and small ways to make my trip to Delmarva a lasting and inspired memory.
Click below to see photos from the event!