By Emma Castleberry
For nearly a year, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) has been working with a variety of local community centers to host public engagement and youth education activities. “We felt it was really important to build relationships with the community centers and existing youth programs because we don’t want to reinvent the wheel,” says Whisper Moore, communications and community engagement AmeriCorps member with SAHC. “We want to work with others who are already engaged with youth education and offer our experience and resources to supplement those programs. It’s a win-win.”
Some of the activities happen on-location in the centers, like wildlife games at the Linwood Crump Shiloh Center, while others allow SAHC to bring the students to different locations. Moore has been working with the afterschool program at StephensLee Recreation Center to take students out each month on field trips. These have included a trip to the Beaver Lake Bird Sanctuary for an introduction to bird watching with members of the Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society; a visit to the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center to meet the superintendent of the Parkway; and a trip to SAHC’s Community Farm for some camping activities like “Leave No Trace” awareness, pitching tents, a backpack relay race and roasting marshmallows. “At first, our kids were a little hesitant about how fun it was going to be,” says Zack Stewart, facility supervisor at StephensLee Recreation Center. “ But they have really enjoyed all of it. When we went to see SAHC’s farm and they saw the campfire, they were hooked.”
Other groups that SAHC has partnered with for youth education activities include Youth Transformed for Life; YMCA afterschool programs at Avery’s Creek Elementary, Estes Elementary, Glen Arden Elementary and Koontz Intermediate schools; Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops; ESL (English as Second Language) classes at Valley Springs and Enka Middle schools; the YMCA Horizons and Jewish Community Center summer camp programs; and the French Broad River Academy. “Youth outreach is a critical part of our ‘forever’ mission,” says Moore. “We protect habitat, clean water, farmland, scenic views and places for people to enjoy outdoor recreation for the benefit of present and future generations. The youth are the future generations.”
For more information, visit Appalachian.org.