Person: “What are you doing this summer?”
Me: “I’m going to be living in Philadelphia working at a wildlife refuge! I’m going to be doing conservation, environmental education, and community outreach work.”
Person: *insert opening quote here*
I have repeated this short explanation so many times during the past couple months that if I were to be made into a talking action figure it would be one of my catch phrases. However, when one of my new suitemates at the International House of Philadelphia asked me what I am doing in the city, she was not satisfied with my simple, recyclable response. She said, “Oh, nice...but what do you actually do?”
I was shocked. I said “uhhh” for a good two seconds, then began to describe my experiences.
At the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, we make community engagement our number one priority. We interact a lot with our neighbors in southwest Philly, but we interact with people from other areas of the city, as well. For example, we have a partnership with the fourth-grade classes of two local public elementary schools in which the visitor services team assists the teachers in teaching the kids about natural science. Being a summer intern, I was able to meet the “Philly Nature Kids” at their graduation ceremony. Many of the graduates were back at the refuge the next week for our free week-long summer camp of which I was one of the camp counselors. During the week, we did many adventurous activities that educated about and fostered a love for the environment.
We leave the refuge to bring our educational presentations to the general public, as well. For example, we have a beautiful pollinator garden at Independence National Historical Park in Center City and when we visit every other week to weed and plant in it we also set up a table with some live butterflies, displays, and informational pamphlets about the importance of pollinators and discuss this topic with the visitors of the park.
Other forms of community engagement are when we attend neighborhood meetings and assist with the planning of community events. For example, I have attended several meetings with the residents of a neighborhood in south Philly where they are trying to decide on what to do with an empty public grass area by a school. Some want a park, some want a garden-- our role is to help inform them about the environmental pros and cons of their choices. Also, for Latino Conservation Week, we are planning a day-long environmental festival at a playground and community garden in north Philly.
So, I’m a camp counselor, event planner, gardener, and environmental advisor and educator. That’s what I do!
By: Gabrielle Perez