The workday begins on the job site as a group of local high school students in light blue t-shirts put on their work gloves and spray a cloud of insect repellant.
“I still don’t like mosquitos and spiders, but at least I am no longer afraid of them,” said Marena, a TeenWorks student working at Hughes Nature Preserve. A group of 10 TeenWorks students and 2 supervisors have spent 6 weeks this summer eradicating invasive Bush Honeysuckle and Garlic Mustard at Hughes Nature Preserve and White River Woods.
Record rainfall and a bumper mosquito crop created trying working conditions for even a seasoned outdoors person. Most of these high school students have spent little to no time in the woods previously. Lexi stated, “I thought it was Jurassic Park the first time we pulled up to White River Woods.” When asked how she feels now at the property, she said “much more comfortable.”
The kids are learned plant identification and how to follow instructions.
TeenWorks is a 6 week paid summer employment and college readiness program that runs in June and July of each summer. Supported by grants from the Glick Family Foundation, Muncie-Delaware County Community Foundation, and Ball Brothers’ Foundation TeenWorks in Muncie worked with eighty local students to help them achieve excellence in college, career, and the community.
Students learned how to identify the invasive plants as well as plants to avoid like poison ivy and stinging nettles. “It isn’t just about working outdoors, you have to learn to get up every day, show up on time, and work with other people” said Logan. They found learning about plants outdoors to be much different from the classroom setting. “It gets real outside when you are learning about poison ivy compared to learning from a book” said Marena. Andrew Korb, team supervisor stated, “The kids are learned plant identification and how to follow instructions. No one contracted poison ivy in our group compared to some of the other outdoor teams”.
The student work crew has cleared large areas of invasive species which will allow for greater diversity of native species in the woods. A couple of days during the program the teens used the larger branches from the honeysuckle to build structures, sculptures, and benches. They learned building is much more difficult than it looks. “I have a new appreciation for carpenters” said one student. Most of the kids stated that they now feel much more at ease in and around the woods than when they started working. Whether any decide to pursue an outdoor career is still undecided, however they do appreciate the importance of their work to maintain the woods. Marena said, “I have respect for people who do this work, I don’t want to do it but I am glad they do!”