Green + green = green: Novices getting paid to learn about conservation and green jobs

In front of Arabia Mountain High School in Lithonia (from left) LEAF interns Naimah Ashford, Amanda Turner, Epiphany Johnson, Attallah Smith and Johanna Amaro. Photo by LA Allen/The Nature Conservancy

In front of Arabia Mountain High School in Lithonia (from left) LEAF interns Naimah Ashford, Amanda Turner, Epiphany Johnson, Attallah Smith and Johanna Amaro. Photo by LA Allen/The Nature Conservancy


What would entice teens to work in a forest in the summer’s sweltering heat? Concern for the environment and the opportunity to learn something new could be reasons. Getting paid also could be a motivator.

For 11 local high school students, the great outdoors has been their office and classroom this summer as they work and learn about caring for natural resources.

The teens are paid interns with The Nature Conservancy’s Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) program, which targets urban youth from populations often underrepresented in the conservation movement.

According to L.A. Allen, Georgia outreach administrator for The Nature Conservancy, the program is in its 23rd year nationwide and students from Lithonia’s Arabia Mountain High School have been involved in it since 2012. About 100 students from Arabia Mountain have completed the internship to date.

This summer 10 Arabia Mountain students and one student from Atlanta’s Maynard H. Jackson High School are taking part in the program that exposes them to and trains them for “green’ jobs.

Students are working on forest and river cane restoration and invasive species removal and planting trees (working with Trees Atlanta) and pollinator plants at DeKalb’s Constitution Lakes, Thomasville Heights in Fulton County and Panola Mountain in Henry County. Earlier in July, they worked in south Georgia doing forest restoration work, clearing invasive species, marking trails and monitoring birds. They also helped repair bridges and benches, “anything our land stewards do,” said Allen.

“I never thought I’d be interested in the environment until now,” said LEAF intern from Kristyn Jackson, an Arabia Mountain High School rising junior. “During this experience, I have seen many new things such as gopher tortoises crossing the road on a rainy day and the starry night sky at the beach.” 

The goal of the LEAF program is to give students an opportunity to “learn about nature by being out in nature and create a conservation consciousness. Get them to understand this is a career path they could take,” she said. It also seeks to build young people’s self-confidence, work skills and conservation literacy.

Allen noted that one participant joined the program with visions of being a lawyer but shifted her vision to environmental law afterward.

In addition to receiving $9.25 an hour while in the program from July 5 to Aug. 1, the students are also provided with housing near their work sites. They also are encouraged to take part in nature-related recreation such as visiting a farmers market or kayaking.

“We give them the opportunity to experience nature not just for work but also for play,” said Allen.

The Georgia LEAF program is one several taking place in 28 states nationwide. More than 1,000 young people have been involved in LEAF programs, which were launched in 1995. Earlier this summer, interns from New York worked in metro Atlanta doing work similar to what the Georgia students are doing.

Arabia Mountain graduate Nassim Ashford, 19, is heading into his second year at Mercer University.

The 19-year-old participated in LEAF for the first time in the summer of 2015, doing trail maintenance, tree monitoring and beach restoration on Little St. Simons Island. He described it as an eye-opening experience.

“I was learning stuff every day,” said Nassim.

This summer he’s back as one of the conservancy’s Global Leaders on Behalf of the Environment intern. He’s had administrative duties as well as supervising the LEAF interns in the field. His 17-year-old sister Naimah Ashford, who’s also an Arabia Mountain student, is taking part in the program as an intern this summer.

Nassim, who’s studying global health with a minor in environmental biology, would like to do epidemiology work in the future.

“I would like to improve the standard of living around the world,” he said.






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