Support from Nature in Neighborhoods grants
Metro has awarded two Nature in Neighborhood grants over the past two years to support conservation and restoration work programs for young people
Conservation education: A 2015 grant for $15,000 paid for the Momentum Alliance and Northwest Youth Corps collaboration to create a five-week paid internship supplemented by year-round training and coaching for 10 youth to increase their connection with nature, improve environmental literacy, and diversify conservation leadership.
In 2016, Metro followed up with a $30,000 grant for the partnership between Momentum Alliance and Northwest Youth Corps. Along with continuing the summer internships for 10 youth, this grant provided year-round programming and coaching for 35 additional young people.
For eight teenage workers, it had been a tough Thursday of uprooting blackberries, nightshade and other invasive species that choked a hillside at Trillium Creek Park in Damascus.
Still, with an afternoon temperature hitting over 90 degrees, the day was cooler than most for the crew that week. After the 3:30 p.m. call for a “tool count” had signaled time to wrap up for the day, the young workers loaded tools into a Northwest Youth Corps van and headed to the tables in the park’s shaded picnic area.
Their tough, sweaty work was over, but not their workday. Unlike a typical summer job, this one included a healthy dose of learning.
Al Hagg and Sabrina Trickel, the leaders of this crew from Northwest Youth Corps, led discussions and role-playing about teamwork and anger management.
The session ended with a game called the “human knot” – a laborious challenge to untangle a web of intertwined arms, intended to demonstrate the power of cooperation.
For the 15- to 17-year-old students, tomorrow would be another day of whacking invasive species, followed by three more weeks of equally hard work. The young workers spent the last week of the program planting willows on the banks of Ramsey Lake, a City of Portland wetlands near the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette rivers. They had to travel over one mile on rutted dirt roads and pass through three locked gates to reach their work site, even though the site is in Portland’s city limits.
At the end of summer, the students received a $1,250 stipend plus a $250 bonus for completing all five weeks.
Marissa Pasaye-Elias, heading into her sophomore year at North Portland’s De La Salle High School, said she had little time for friends this summer because of her long workdays. The 15-year-old says she gets up at 6:30 a.m. to prepare for work and doesn’t get home until 5 p.m.
Still, she’s not complaining. “It’s tiring, but I find a way to get through it,” she said after climbing down from a tree where she’d been removing blackberry vines. Without the program, she said, “I would have never gone out and done something like this.”
Now in its third year, the youth corps community program is a collaboration of two non-profits, the Northwest Youth Corps and the Momentum Alliance. Each year the youth-led Momentum Alliance has recruited 10 young people from social and economic backgrounds that Momentum Alliance describes as historically oppressed and marginalized. The 10 then participate in the work-training and environmental education program, which is led by the Eugene-based Northwest Youth Corps. These are young people who may be immigrants, LGBTQ, gang-affected, low-income, youth of color, survivors of domestic abuse, or teen mothers, among other groups and life experiences.
The collaboration emerged from a 2012 gathering of the Intertwine Alliance, a Portland-area environmental coalition. There, the Northwest Youth Corps approached Momentum Alliance with the idea of connecting its expertise in job training to the alliance’s work with young people.
Metro subsequently approved a $15,000 Nature in Neighborhood grant for 2015. The next year, Metro provided a $30,000 grant for the 2016 summer program as well as additional year-round services and environmental opportunities for 35 youth outside the work program. Metro’s contribution helped pay for food, transportation, work clothing and boots for students who otherwise could not afford those essentials.
“This probably would not have happened without the Nature in Neighborhoods grant,” said Sarah Cooley Trinkle, Momentum’s finance and fundraising director. “I’m grateful that Metro offered this opportunity because it inspired the collaboration.”
Ruby Bebekian, Northwest Youth Corps community program coordinator, said her agency has incorporated lessons from the program into other training projects. The program, she said, has been “cool and successful.” One sign of this success is that the program is now standing on its own without Metro funding, she added.
The work projects are typically at public open spaces. Trillium Creek Park is part of the North Clackamas Parks & Recreation District. The students have worked at parks and public spaces sites managed by Metro, the Port of Portland, and the cities of Portland, West Linn, and Troutdale, and at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.
Those entities hire crews to work 330 hours per week and their payments go toward paying the work stipends and covering staff and administrative expenses, said Al Hagg, the Northwest Youth Corps crew leader.
Summer work, summer education
About this series
Metro has invested in community nature projects for more than 25 years. Through this occasional series in 2017-18, we’ll revisit projects that previously received Nature in Neighborhoods grants or local share money to find out where the projects are now and what difference Metro’s investments made.
As of early 2017, Metro is not accepting Nature in Neighborhoods grants applications. Grants paid for with money from the 2006 bond measure and 2013 parks and natural areas levy have all been awarded.
In November 2016, voters renewed the Metro parks and natural areas levy. Money from the levy renewal will be available starting in July 2018, and more Nature in Neighborhoods grants will be available then.
The lessons of nature and life are critical parts of the program. Students learned about the “leave no trace” ethic of outdoor recreation, fish habitat needs and opportunities for careers in nature. They also learned basic social and professional skills essential in a workplace. Most students are able to earn one to two high school credits for the course work as well.
The students also learn from their work on the ground. The learning came fast for Vladimir Sanchez. “We’ve only been doing this for one-and-a-half weeks and I already know the names of trees and plants I didn’t know before,” said the Gresham High School student.
But even with its successes, the program isn’t without challenges. In recruitment efforts, some students show initial interested but end up turning down the opportunity because of the hard work and low pay. Some who sign up don’t make it through the full five weeks, including one student this year who quit within the first week.
At Trillium Creek Park, the students didn’t want to give up trying to untangle the “human knot” even as the clock ticked well beyond their scheduled departure time. “We’re not quitters,” one student called out when the knot seemed hopelessly tangled.
Afterward, Jorge Angulo, a 15-year-old attending Reynolds High School, talked about the program. His father is a landscaper, so Angulo knows what the work was like. “It’s a little difficult but it’s fun,” he said.
It’s also rewarding, Angulo said as he looked at the cleared slope from the park’s grassy fields down to Trillium Creek. “When we first got here this was a mess,” he said. “Now, wow, look at what we did.”