At-risk teens go green
It’s a bright, autumn morning at Richmond Nature Park and clusters of chatty teenagers are scattered throughout the sun-flecked peat bog toiling away on their hands and knees.
Lyda Salatian supervises the youth and fields their questions.
“Just put it down,” she advises one girl who has unearthed a hefty chunk of wood. “It will create habitat for little creatures, so just leave it on the ground somewhere.”
Salatian is founder of the Lower Mainland Green Team, an environmental group comprised of some 1,200 volunteers who have been helping to preserve and protect local parks since February 2011.
Thanks to funding from the Sitka Foundation and Chris Spencer Foundation, this most recent event at Richmond Nature Park marked the first time the Lower Mainland Green Team has recruited a team of at-risk youth.
Almost 30 teens enrolled in Horizons and Station Stretch—two Richmond School District alternative high school programs for students with special educational needs—joined forces to remove invasive plants and reintroduce native species.
Salatian said more than half the teens had never visited the nature park before, despite being from Richmond.
“They’re connecting with nature, first and foremost, and a lot of these kids they come from some challenging backgrounds and they get to be outside interacting with nature, getting their hands dirty,” Salatian said.
“They’re more likely to be environmentally responsible if they’re connected with nature,” she added.
The high schoolers were tasked with uprooting cultivated blueberry bushes which have spread to the bog from nearby farmers’ fields.
“Cultivated blueberries have taken over huge portions of the park and they’re a very aggressive species. They can grow up to about 20 feet high and where they grow nothing else grows, so it really minimizes the diversity of the park,” said park co-ordinator Kris Bauder, adding that native plants are valuable for wildlife. “We’re trying to preserve an intact ecosystem.”
At the end of the day the students had removed 440 pounds of cultivated blueberries and planted 117 bog blueberry plants and bog laurel shrubs. They also gained volunteer hours.
Jon Lee-Son, an adolescent alternate program worker at Station Stretch, was encouraged by his students’ response to the field trip.
“Firstly, they’re learning to be a part of the community and that they can actually make a difference,” he said. “I was wondering how motivated they would be, but you see them work pretty well together and keep each other on task.”
He said he would be interested in engaging his students in a similar project in the future.
Lower Mainland Green Team volunteers will return to Richmond in early November when they will be removing the invasive Scotch broom plant from Iona Beach and participating in a shoreline cleanup.
For more information about Lower Mainland Green Team or to volunteer at an event, visit meetup.com/the-lower-mainland-green-team.