I had no idea what to expect. While working as an intern, I could rely on my education and experiences to at least give me some vague idea of what I was getting myself into. However, my degree in fisheries and wildlife did not prepare me to lead a group of five, spirited teenage boys for the summer.
As most people know, working in a group can sometimes be difficult. Attitude and group dynamics are key components in making or breaking the success of a team. After the first two days of working with the Youth Conservation Corps crew, I was unsure of how each individual’s role would develop. Each boy came with a unique background and story. There were both veteran crew members and high school students who had never had a job before. As days turned into weeks, I was impressed as the older boys guided the “newbies.” Between their rambunctious teenage personalities, each crew member started showing leadership characteristics by displaying an exemplary work ethic and having fun while doing so.
During our eight weeks together, I was excited and proud of what we accomplished. We would regularly assist with the cleaning and upkeep of our visitor contact station and the surrounding gardens. On top of our weekly responsibilities, we completed projects for the biological, visitor services, and maintenance staff. One venture included re-decking a pier in one of the freshwater impoundments to provide visitors with a better fishing experience. Another task was to remove the fast growing loblolly pine trees on reforestation sites to increase the chance of survival for the legacy, hardwood tree species. We also worked on projects at nearby refuges, constructed a fence, and built benches for various look-outs throughout refuge. The range of our work allowed the members of the crew to understand some of the many aspects of maintaining a national wildlife refuge.
In addition, the Back Bay interns offered up some of their time each week to participate in a mentorship program with the YCC members. Each intern was paired up with a YCC member to give them an opportunity to learn and connect with someone who could provide some guidance. Activities included icebreakers, advice on professionalism and educational opportunities including attending bird surveys, relocation of a loggerhead sea turtle nest, a trip to the Virginia Aquarium, and of course, playing a competitive game of wildlife jeopardy.
I am not surprised by what we accomplished during our time at the refuge. It can be attributed to the characters of the young adults that I had the opportunity to work with this summer. Although on paper I was the “leader,” they each stepped up throughout the summer guiding and encouraging each other, and giving their best effort regardless of the conditions. The Youth Conservation Corps program gave them the opportunity to learn new skills, meet new people, experience work in the conservation field, and create memories to take with them from an unforgettable summer.