I’m Maggie Jones and I was the Program Assistant for the Forest Preserve Experience Program this past summer.
My interest in all things outdoors began as a kid growing up in eastern Iowa. I loved animals and plants and exploring what my backyard and local parks had to offer. Some of my favorite memories from growing up are taking the family dog to the nearest county park and walking the trails.
I didn’t expect to get involved in conservation or environmental education in Chicago, of all places. The big city and nature weren’t correlated in my mind. I figured I’d need to drive two hours to experience the great outdoors, a trade-off I was willing to accept. I’d visit the zoo occasionally and volunteered there one summer staffing education carts and sharing information about animals and care practices. One thing I found especially fascinating was that the zoo keepers offered enrichment to the rhinos by placing different spices around their habitat each day. This stimulated their minds and kept the rhinos psychologically healthy.
It was a visit to the North Park Village Nature Center where the learning became local. I first visited for their Maple Syrup Fest and loved what the staff offered to young and old with hands-on activities and learning opportunities. Soon after, I began volunteering with the Nature Center’s “Neighborhood Naturalist” program, leading third graders on tours of the center and teaching them about our local environment. Those kids loved turning over logs to find little bugs – they were learning that life is everywhere! They were just as excited to find roly poly’s as they were to spot a deer. I continued to help with tours and special events as well as participated in the center’s educational classes for my own interests.
Last summer I saw a call for volunteers at LaBagh Woods on social media. I’d been to LaBagh once before, for a picnic and brief walk into the woods and since I lived nearby, I decided to volunteer. Josh Coles, the north side Field Organizer for Friends, was leading the workday the first time I volunteered. He showed us how to remove the (new-to-me) buckthorn and how to collect (new-to-me) ramp seeds. Then we took a walk through the woods where we saw a slough and learned how the hydrology in the area changes. We also observed a towering cherry tree that had been struck by lightning and had a fresh scar line across its trunk – it was hauntingly beautiful. That first volunteer day was a great experience, one which encouraged me to return again and again to LaBagh workdays. I continue to volunteer at LaBagh and started volunteering at Forest Glen when the volunteer stewardship program launched this past spring.
These volunteer opportunities led me to my job as Program Assistant with Friends of the Forest Preserves. There is a wonderful network of people dedicated to the work they do and who want to see others succeed in this field. Chicago is certainly a place where you can find and make an impact on the local environment.
Maggie Jones continues to volunteer at LaBagh Woods and Forest Glen Woods.
By Gloria Orozco, Assistant Crew Manager at Friends of the Forest Preserves
Back in February of 2016, I was given the opportunity to go and present at the 11th Biennial Conference on University Education in Natural Resources. I presented along with Alice Brandon, Resource Management Administrator, and John McCabe, Resource Management Director of the Forest Preserves of Cook County. I was excited and nervous at the same time, not so much about presenting, but about the people I would meet there. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I never thought I would come back feeling the way I did.
Being part of the conference, we were able to take part in the workshops and presentations being offered. At the beginning of the day, during the breakfast, I quickly realized who this conference was for. They were Natural Resources and Arborist professors from across the country. I felt somewhat intimidated, but ready for what the day had in store.
Presentations that interested me had to do mostly with diversity in the classrooms of universities. Being part of Friends of the Forest Preserves, I have become really interested in diversity in environmental careers and in finding ways to bring people from different backgrounds to come together. I must say, these presentations were not what I expected.
Don’t get me wrong, the conference was great and I am sure that the professors were able to leave with new ideas for the classroom. However, it gave me insight on the diversity problems in universities. I remember one in particular because of how angry it made me. There were around twenty people in the room. As I looked around, I realized I was the only person of color in the room. I felt eyes on me as they all began to discuss why minorities don’t enroll in their universities. I eventually got the nerve to say something as I listened to one of the professors talk about how he has gone out to communities of minorities to try to convince them to visit the campus and trying to make a connection with them. All this is great, but then he said minorities just weren’t interested or didn’t care.
Don’t care? What are you talking about?!
This professor didn’t mean any harm, he was just speaking from his point of view. I suppose that’s how it can be interpreted if you go out to look for students and don’t get a good turn out. However, there are more factors to consider. For example, did you offer transportation opportunities? A lot of these communities live from paycheck to paycheck, sometimes with no savings. Even if they are interested, transportation could be a factor that prevents them from visiting your campus. Did you go out to their community more than once and actually make a connection? It is not easy. It is not something you do in a day. It takes time and effort. Communities need to be visited more than once to make an actual connection with them. Don’t pretend to get what each of these students are going through, just listen and try to offer options.
Having been part of this conference, I learned that there is still a lack of education and or communication with people who are different from us. We like to assume the reasons behind the way people are behaving without sitting down and talking to them, or taking the time to learn more. This is a problem not only in universities, but across the country. Let’s try to learn more about each other. Let’s stop assuming, and start communicating.
More than 100 young people will get the chance to earn money and experience the outdoors through a summer jobs program in Cook County’s forest preserves.
This past Saturday I was given the opportunity to job shadow Robert Telfer and Ian Viteri at the Field Museum. While job shadowing Robert Telfer I was given the opportunity to sit in on a meeting for an event they have coming up. This year is the big year event for Eggers Woods. They invite everyone to come out and enjoy a day of bird watching in a group led by an experienced bird watcher to take a group into the preserve and try to spot all the different kinds of birds flying into the preserve this time of year. They will also be asking for volunteers willing to put on waiters and help pull out any tires that are in the lake. This is important to really try and get the community to come out and enjoy this event and, if willing, help pull out as much trash from the lake as they can and enjoy the rest of the day. During the second half of my day a good friend and old crew leader of mine, Ian Viteri who works with youth groups for the museum such as the Mighty Acorns, was able to take me around and show me the many staff departments in the museum. I was able to see the planning and aesthetic that goes into many of the exhibits and given the opportunity to speak with members of the graphic design department, an area of work I myself really appreciate. After a quick lunch I was able to sit in on another meeting where they discussed plans for an upcoming event. It was a very interesting meeting; I got to see what specifics go into the planning such as what speakers they want and what food options were going to be given this year. It was very informative seeing the great detail that goes into planning a successful event.
Adam Medel from the Forest Preserve Leadership Corps is learning first hand how to turn his passion for fire management into a lifelong career…
“On Thursday February 18th, I completed a job shadow with Stuart Goldman at Indian Boundary Prairies. I decided to shadow Stuart because of his experience in fire management, and my goals of pursuing a career in this field. Fire management is an important profession because of the benefits fire has on ecology, but also because of the danger wildfire presents to natural resources and urban communities near wildland. Throughout the day Stuart and I talked about various avenues to take in order to make a career in this field, and after presenting my goal of becoming a wildland firefighter, Stuart shared resources with me that will help turn my goal into reality. Later in the day, I was taken into Gensburg-Markham Prairie where I met with a crew from The Nature Conservatory. Here I was given even further insight on careers in fire management. As my time with Stuart came to an end, I left with plenty of information to take the next step toward my career goal as a wildland firefighter.”