Colo. ‘tweens can spend summer giving back |

Colo. ‘tweens can spend summer giving back

JACK WEINSTEINSteamboat Pilot & Today

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) – Destini Wixom can imagine returning to the Sunrise Vista campground at Steamboat Lake some day, years after the lodgepole pine seedlings she planted Tuesday have grown.”Say we come back here in a long time,” said Destini, who attends Soroco Middle School. “We can tell people we planted these trees and show them the hard work we’ve done.”Destini, 13, was one of eight Routt County sixth- through eighth-graders who planted the seedlings during a makeup day for the Service Learning Institute, a new program through Rocky Mountain Youth Corps.The participants were making up for time they missed during the previous four weeks as they worked toward earning 100 hours of community service.In that time – the first of two sessions this summer – they built a sand volleyball court at Howelsen Hill, planted gardens at Yampatika’s Environmental Learning Center at the Legacy Ranch and for Community Cultivation, groomed and walked dogs at the Steamboat Springs Animal Shelter, cleared trails at Yampa River State Park and along Spring Creek and cleared weeds in Stagecoach.Program Coordinator Amy McFadden said the Service Learning Institute was created to provide an alternative to summer activities for an age group she said was too young to work and too old for summer day camps.McFadden said the sixth- through ninth-graders participate in community service projects across the county and receive education related to their volunteer efforts.”We’re trying to teach them skills they can take with them after the program,” she said. “Rocky Mountain Youth Corps promotes job skills and preparation for the future. We’ve been trying to promote that, as well.”Participants who complete 100 hours of service during their session will be awarded a $500 AmeriCorps education scholarship that can be used toward the cost of college or secondary education.Another group of Service Learning Institute participants planted seedlings July 15 on Burgess Creek Road to make up for time they missed the past four weeks. A second session for the program started last week. McFadden said about 35 sixth- through ninth-graders were participating during both sessions this summer.”I didn’t know much about the Service Learning Institute, and so I decided I wanted to do this instead of being home and lazy,” said 12-year-old Enrique Rodriguez, who attends Steamboat Springs Middle School. “My parents agreed. Instead of staying home and watching TV, I have something to do. We help our community.”Julie Arington, park manager for Steamboat Lake and Pearl Lake state parks, said about 10,000 lodgepole pine trees have been cut down in the past two years because of the mountain pine beetle epidemic.She said the forest will regenerate naturally but that about 7,000 trees have been replanted. Arington said the work the Service Learning Institute participants and other volunteers who have planted trees helped give the forest a boost.Arington cited another benefit of the program: getting youths outside.”They’re going to be the ones in charge of taking care of the forest in the future,” she said. “For kids to come outside, they’ll develop a relationship with the outdoors. If they appreciate it, they’ll take care of it.”McFadden said in addition to the volunteerism, the Service Learning Institute is intended to show middle-school-age students that they have a role in the community.”For them to see the completed projects, to say, ‘I did that,’ gives them a sense of place in the community,” she said. “I think the kids have come away from it with the knowledge we hoped they would gain. They understand the purpose of the program and learned something, which is awesome. And I think they enjoy being here.”It appears the message is getting across.Kennedy Mattson, 11, who will attend Steamboat Springs Middle School next year, said because of the program, she wants to get her friends involved in after-school volunteer projects.Lexy Gumm, who also will attend the middle school next year, said she’s learned that she can help out and make a difference in Steamboat.”Ever since I joined this program, when I see trash, I just pick it up,” the 12-year-old said. “Since we’ve been cleaning up, I’ve realized our community is getting dirty. When I see people litter, it makes me mad. I feel like I’ve accomplished something in the community. I’m going to do it again next year.”