From left to right: (interviewees in bold)
Front row: Laura Dowd, Celine Udokporo, Tashaina Huezo-Santiago, Pat Alvarez
Back row: Whitney Ligonde, Jacob Rivera, Nehemiah Muhikira, Zion Ford, Ricardo Cabrera, Alan Gomez, Da’Sonté Woodard, Myeniza Freeman, Javier Diaz
For this month’s Humans of Hyde Park story, we’re featuring the Southwest Boston CDC Green Team, a group of Boston area youth who focus on advancing the preservation and improvement of local green spaces. The Green Team, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year, is a annual six week program that provides summer jobs for local teens and teaches them how to care for wild green spaces in their city. Each summer, under the direction of Program Director Pat Alvarez and Program Coordinator Whitney Ligonde, and in partnership with the Boston Parks & Recreation Department, the team spends about 70% of their time on neighborhood and urban wild work projects and 30% of their time on job readiness training and environmental education. The program begins with two days of safety and job orientation training and then later in the program there is additional training in areas such as personal finance, community outreach, workers' rights, resume and cover letter preparation, higher education and career options, climate change, water protection, and more. Through this program Green Team youth develop leadership skills; a sense of responsibility for their community; knowledge and interest in the natural environment and a range of job readiness and life skills.
We recently sat down with members of the Green Team to hear about their experience with the program and to thank them for all their hard work this summer.
Tell us about the Green Team: what it is and what you all do?
Ricardo: The main mission of the Green Team is to restore the urban wilds - Sherrin Woods and Dell Rock -to make it more pleasing for people to go into Sherrin Woods.
Tashaina: We do community outreach and volunteer events to teach people about Sherrin Woods and how to take care of it.
What was it about the Green Team that made you interested in applying for the position?
Da’Sonté: I’ve been working with kids for a long time and when I saw this I thought it would be something new, outside my comfort zone. Trying something new, becoming one with nature.
Myeniza: I was interested in the career training that we do.
Zion - This is my 2nd year with the Green Team. I liked it the first year. We work as a team and we work hard every day, finishing our tasks. I like getting to know everyone. Last year we became like a little family.
Tashaina: We learn about nature. I was excited about the training we would do, the seminars and learning about career opportunities. I also wanted to help where I live in Hyde Park. Make it nicer than it was before.
Tell us a little about the training process you went through.
Zion: We learned about bike safety - we ride our bikes everywhere to the different sites. We also learned how to identify plants like poison ivy. I knew about poison ivy, but I never knew what it looked like until I started here.
Ricardo: We also learned about tool safety and what to wear.
Tashaina: Working together as a team, responsibility, respect.
Zion: The number one thing is communication - it’s so important or nothing gets done.
What have you been working on, and what are your overall goals for the summer?
Ricardo: We're working to get rid of the invasive plants in Sherrin Woods. We’re also trying to finish up a trench in the forest.
Myeniza: We’re digging a 3 foot x 4 inch deep trench along Marston and Austin Street. We’re digging out dirt and rocks, covering with a weed guard and putting dirt and mulch on top. We’re trying to make it look nice for people entering the woods.
Da’Sonté: The invasives we’re trying to get rid of are Garlic Mustard, Buckthorn, Multi-thorn Rose, Burning Bush. They got there from people dumping construction and landscaping debris at the site. It throws off the PH of the soil and allows other plants to grow.
(After being trained themselves, Green Team youth trained and guided adult volunteers from the Charles River Watershed Association and TD Bank in identifying and removing invasives at Sherrin Woods.)
What is the most interesting or surprising thing you learned or found?
Myeniza and Da’Sonté: We wore hip waders and went into the Neponset River near Edgewater Drive to see if the river is clean. We were looking for different things like different species of animals that are sensitive to pollution, like invertebrates. If you find invertebrates, it means the river is in good shape. We found crayfish and mussels, which was a good sign that that section of the river is healthy. They can’t survive in polluted water.
Da’Sonté: We found a salamander in Sherrin Woods that’s endangered. It breathes through its skin so we had to be careful that we wouldn’t suffocate it by holding it. They also can’t live in polluted areas, so it was a good indication of the health of the area.
Tashaina: I didn’t know there was a plant called Jewelweed. You open the stem and rub the sap on your skin and supposedly it will stop the itch from Poison Ivy.
What is your favorite part of being a part of this team?
Da’Sonté: Meeting and working with new people of different age ranges. Some of us are 15 and some are up to 19.
Ricardo: Sometimes when we’re working we start talking to each other and we talk about interesting stuff. It’s entertaining.
Tashaina: Like Zion said earlier, we’re all like a little family. We all get along for the most part. I would definitely recommend this program. This is my first job and it’s amazing - way better than working someplace like McDonald’s.
Da’Sonté: There’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears working in the woods, but it is worth it. No pain, no gain.
Tashaina: It is definitely worth it.
How do you think this opportunity has changed you? (in terms of your perspective on things, your skills, etc). How do you think you will be able to use this experience in the future?
Da’Sonté: I feel less stressed being in the woods. I actually want to take walks in the woods now with my dog and be one with nature.
Celine: I didn’t even know Sherrin Woods was there and I live close to it. I’ll visit more often now.
Alan: This has made me want to go outside more often. I used to stay inside all the time.
Tashaina: It’s helped me with public speaking and working in groups. I’m a lot more confident and independent. I’ve also developed more of an appreciation for the woods. I always loved nature, but now I can identify stuff and show it to my family and friends.
Do you have a message you’d like to share with the community?
Ricardo: Don’t litter in the forest. If you have trash, use a trash can. Recycle.
Tashaina: How you treat the woods will one day affect you and all of us.
Da’Sonté: Treat the woods like you would treat your house. Keep it clean.
For more information on the Green Team, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also support the Green Team here: http://www.swbcdc.org/join/
Nominate yourself or someone in the community for a future Humans of Hyde Park story; nominees can remain anonymous in the story or use their first name only if they prefer: https://goo.gl/forms/qgTj1Rh8t2bSbh973.
Quiana first came to Boston as a college student, graduating from Wellesley College in 2002 and returned in 2016 to live in Hyde Park with her husband and two children.