Welcome to Our Backyard: the 2013 Youth Summit

Hi everyone!

On August 16, SCIP hosted the annual Youth Summit – an end-of-summer celebration with members of various NPS youth programs in the area. All in all, about 150 NPS youth came to spend the day with SCIP at Lowell National Historical Park’s Boardinghouse Park.

everyone at the Youth Summit!

everyone at the Youth Summit!

Lots of different parks and programs were represented! Youth from nine different programs came: Lowell Spindle City Corps, Salem Maritime Future Leaders, Boston Harbor Island Ambassadors, Frederick Law Olmsted Youth Conservation Corps, Groundwork Somerville, New Bedford Whaling Learners to Teachers, National Park Service Preservers, Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation Branching Out, and Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation Designing Parks.

To reflect the NPS Call to Action, a set of benchmark goals for the National Park Service to achieve by the 2016 centennial, the theme of the day was “In My Backyard”- this item in the Call to Action (benchmark #4) suggests to “improve urban residents’ awareness of and access to outdoor and cultural experiences close to home by promoting national parks in urban areas”. 

I’ve definitely had the experience multiple times with parks I’ve been at, that local residents will often say to me, “Oh, there’s a national park here? I didn’t know that,” or a local visitor will come into the park for their first time and say, “I’ve lived here for years and had no idea this was here!” Sometimes it surprises people that there are 401 national parks in the United States; in Massachusetts alone, there are 14 national park units. These are unexpected numbers for a relatively small state with a lot of urban areas. But, as youth affiliated with the National Park Service, we are in an excellent position to change that perception, and to make our neighbors in our hometowns more aware of these awesome places that we work at and take care of, and that are at our hands and feet.

The summit was all about sharing our experiences working at these places, and imagining what the future of the National Park Service could be like in our hands. The morning started with members of each youth program presenting their summer work and projects with each other:

And then in teams, we all came up with ten different versions of our ideal national parks, and shared our visions with sidewalk chalk drawings:

Making new friends and drawing with chalk

Making new friends and imagining national parks on the sidewalk

Lunch was accompanied with National Park trivia, and then awards were presented for the Summit contests in essay writing and creative arts and media. Lowell protection ranger (and SCIP intern Missy’s mentor) Traci even helped out by escorting the awards in her park vehicle:

And the afternoon was spent learning from each other with ten workshops, offered by youth, mentors, and SCIP members:

To close the day with celebrating and encouraging further stewardship of the parks in our backyards, SCIP ranger Rubby and I each spoke some words to end with. During the workshop sessions earlier, some youth and I wrote a collaborative poem centered around the idea of our hands and feet: reflecting on what they did over the summer, and what they can do in the future. This is what we came up with, which I read to help close the day:

Hands and Feet

All they do is work.
They sink in the sand,
they discover new parks
and have many plans;
 
They sink in the sand;
as our hands wield rotten wood,
they have many plans
for flourishing new roots;
 
As our hands wield rotten wood,
footprints tattoo soil for a better tomorrow:
for flourishing new roots -
they cleared paths for others to follow;
 
Footprints tattoo soil for a better tomorrow:
they discover new parks,
they clear paths for others to follow -
All they do is work.
 

Rubby then ended the day with some words to keep us excited and motivated:

SCIP ranger Rubby closing out the day

SCIP ranger Rubby closing out the day: “I challenge you to ask, ‘What’s next?’ and to always chase after dreams that challenge you.”

She advised, “We must share all we have learned and put the skills acquired into actions. Should each of us as unique individuals with diverse experiences, talents, and strengths put our brilliant minds together, and decide to make a commitment to improving our communities, no matter how small, imagine how great of an impact we could make.”

With 401 national parks across the country, each of these places brings something special and unique to the table. Some national parks are right in our own backyards, and our summer experiences bring these places even closer to home. Our hands may have done nothing but work this summer, but no matter what they did, they all made an impact in keeping the parks in our backyards alive and special, in keeping our communities alive and special. Lowell was happy to welcome youths from the neighboring national parks into our own backyard, and SCIP looks forward to seeing the great impacts everyone will make in the future! (Even if it is just with our hands and feet.)

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My journey to conquer the Lowell Canals; with my trusty mentor Tess Shatzer

I have been at Lowell National Historical Park for about a year now and I had successfully navigated away from boar tours; because I am terrified of water. Boat tours are an important part of our summer offerings and so my boss Tess sat me down and said “ Rubby, although it is not in your job description to do boat tours and I know you don’t like water, as part of your professional development I would like you to face and conquer your fear of the water”.

 Now you have to know Tess to know how much what she said impacted me. Have you ever had a boss who is more than a boss, one that pays attention, cares for you beyond the job, and wants to see you at your very best, one who pushes you to your fullest potential? That is Tess Shatzer in a nutshell. In the year that I have worked at Lowell, she has come to be a friend, a mentor and my boss all wrapped up in one. She makes the workplace feel like a family. Every day I do my job and I do it well for myself, for the Park Service and for Tess for the guidance she has given me to get me to this point.

OK just went off on a tangent, this was not meant to flatter you Tess in case you read this but it’s the truth which is why I hyperventilate when you observe me ( inside joke) because I have learned so much from you and I want to show you just how much when you observe my programs.

 Anyway so as I was saying Tess said in her Tessy voice that she wanted me to do a boat tour and coming from her, I knew it was something that I had to do for myself. And so the preparation began and by preparation I mean PREPARATION. I read any and all tour material I could get my hands on about our boat tours. I observed several

“And if I had my wish all” tours led by different staff members. Every chance I got I grilled my coworkers about how they did their tours, how they tackled different foreseeable issues/problems that might arise “most of which came from my overactive imagination from a place of excitement, panic and overall fear of having the worse tour ever and denying visitors the amazing experience they deserved”. I deepened my knowledge base and prepared. Whenever I was at the desk or interacting with visitors I had mini practices for my tour. I counted down the days and literally set an alarm on my iPhone calendar reminding me that I had the 11:00 am “Working the Water” boat tour.

Fast forward to the day of the tour, I woke up reciting “Francis Gate was built by James Francis. It is 25ft tall, 27ft wide and 17inches thick”. As a point of clarification for the Non-Lowellians, Francis Gate is a crucial part of our story in Lowell as the famous gate that saved the city twice from floods. I came to work with my stomach in knots. I barely said anything to anyone all morning. I was busy cramming; I was determined to know the answer to any and every question regardless of how obscure, which tells you how impossible I was being. I accosted other staff members with questions and was reassured at every turn that it was going to be ok. “Yeah it was easy for them to say they have done this a thousand times, its second nature for them, more important they are not afraid of water”.

Half an hour before the tour per SOP guidelines, I got my tour bag, collected any and every picture, prop etc. anything that I could possibly need. I borrowed Emily Levine’s ball cap, used the bathroom, checked my uniform, got my keys and radio and I was ready to go.

Before we headed out Tess comes up to me and said she needs to talk to me. Let me preface this by saying I have an irrational fear of that phrase “I need to talk to you especially from an authority figure because I am always terrified that I might have done something wrong”.  She said “the water level is too high we can’t go to Francis Gate”.  Oh no not the one thing I have been obsessing about making sure I had all the facts right. Tess said  “I know this is a curve ball and I am giving you a pass, you can choose not to do this tour today because you have never done it before and detouring from the pre-planned route is stressful even for our seasoned boat tour guides. But I have no doubt that you can do it but it is up to you.” You see how she does that, she has such complete confidence in my abilities that I am emboldened and empowered by her faith. I decide to do the tour with the provision that she came along to show me the new route. By now I was completely in panic mode with my perfect ranger smile and outside exuberance of complete confidence and control plastered. While inside I was say “oh crap crap crap this is going to be the worst tour ever!”

 And you can guess what happened, Yes I DID NOT DIE! I DID NOT CHOKE. Imagine that! I could have done better and like everyone else I am my worse critic but it went well. I had a very interested group who were excited to be there, they asked great questions and made some great contributions to the tour. Remember how I was obsessing about Francis gate?  The best part was, one of the visitors on the boat tour knew the entire story and so when it came time to tell it, I stood back, gave him the floor and he told the story. Can you believe that? Of cause I gently corrected errors in what he said but it was the final thing that allowed me to release the breath I had been holding for about a week about this tour.

All in all, we had a blast. The moral of the story is fear is a prison we build for ourselves. If we are lucky we have someone to help us crash through those barriers as Tess did with me. You never know if you can conquer your fear till you face it head on. I faced mine and it turned out wonderful. That is not to say that it will always turn out great when you face your fears but at least you will know what you are dealing with. And as the saying goes “if you try once and fail, by all means try try try again”.

 I am now the self-proclaimed queen of boat tours and I hold that as a badge of honor! Thank you Tess and thank you to my fellow staff members. You all gave me the courage to face my fear and I hope that someday I can do the same for you.

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Reflections; Rubby Wuabu @Lowell National Historical Park

I am proud and grateful member of the Mass Parks Student Career Intake Program or SCIP, one of the best programs to educate youth while providing access to opportunities in the National Park Service. Through SCIP I gained access to a community of talented people who are passionate about learning, preserving and sharing the amazing individual and collective stories of the diverse people that make this country so unique. As an immigrant I had no frame of reference as to what national parks were; It wasn’t something I grew up with and I knew even less about the opportunities, resources and amazing career opportunities available. Through SCIP we learned about the work and mission of the National Park Service. We were nurtured, mentored and groomed into stewards. We gained a deeper appreciation of the importance of individual and collective experiences as well as empowered to be leaders within our communities.Insights acquired through SCIP have made me proud to work for such an amazing organization that works diligently to balance its mission of recreation and preservation, while striving to accurately share the stories of all the peoples of America. My awareness of the National Parks, has enabled me to educate my friends and family about the idea of the national parks, what they are, and their work in preserving and sharing our ever changing story as a country. We have come to see National Parks as resources to be utilized for educational and recreational uses as well as learning that our experiences no matter how different are important and should be shared with others.

I am a proud SCIP success story. In my third year with the program I successfully acquired a permanent job at Lowell National Historical Park as an interpretive park ranger. Every day I get to indulge my passion for learning and interacting with people from all backgrounds. I get to learn so I can educate others while learning from the experiences of all the people I meet. I get to be the voice for those long gone; to remind us of their contributions and the importance of not only protecting their sacrifices but to also make sacrifices for future generations. Every day I put on my National Park Service uniform and I am reminded of my duty to be truthful and open-minded.Personally working for the National Park Service has been a revelation and an enriching opportunity for self-growth. In my capacity as a ranger, I have gotten the opportunity to reexamine my experiences, while delving deeper into the connections between past and current social discourse on topics ranging from immigration to energy. I have learned to appreciate different perspectives and the power of personal experiences in shaping our perspectives. I have acquired on the job skills and experiences that will serve me well no matter where I end up in the future. I have learned to listen to observe, to put myself aside in service of others and more important to value the views and perspectives of everyone I come in contact with.  Every day I am humbled by the things I learn and I relish the opportunity to continue learning and challenging myself through the National Park Service. Thank you SCIP program for opening a door to whole new world. It is my solemn promise to do my very best to deserve the opportunities presented and make the very best of it.

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More Than Words

Hi everyone!

So it’s been a while since I’ve last posted, and summer is in full swing here at Lowell. I’ve been enjoying the season so far, giving tours and meeting with visitors (including the new SCIPs and the Greening Youth Foundation!)

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giving a tour to the first year SCIPs and Greening Youth Foundation interns

I’ve also been doing some new things too, though. Lately on my tours I’ve been trying out something different to communicate with visitors – spoken word poetry. Spoken word is a little tricky to define, but one way to think of it is as performance poetry – poems that are written with the intent of being performed, not necessarily to be published in a book.

I first started doing spoken word when I was in college. There was an organization for Asian American students to do creative writing, and to perform spoken word, poetry, and theatre and comedy skits – all about our different experiences being Asian American. I’ve been wanting to write a poem about Lowell since I started working here, but after I graduated my writing kind of fell by the wayside.

Then in March, the Park had its annual Women’s Week, and I thought it might be cool to do a creative writing workshop for a program. Historically, Lowell has a tradition of creative writing – going all the way back to the early mill women in the 1830’s, who published their own literary magazines, with short stories and poems, communicating and giving voice to their experiences in the mills. And now, the Lowell Offering is a source used at the Park when we do research about the history here. I thought that continuing that practice of creative writing could be a cool way for the Park to honor that tradition.

While preparing for the workshop in March, I started to finally write my own poem about Lowell. The end result was seven pages – about five minutes when spoken out loud. Maybe the definition of poetic excess is waiting to write for four years and then coming up with seven pages. But I’m happy with how it turned out.

This poem for Women’s Week, “Pocket Change”, and another later poem I wrote, “A Ghost Town”, is what I’ve been using on my tours this month. And so far, the feedback I’ve gotten from visitors has been great. On my first tour of the summer, I performed some poetry for the visitors, and this little kid (maybe four or five), who was excited about Lowell but shy whenever I tried talking with him, interrupted my interpretation after I finished reading – and said “Excuse me, but I really liked your poem” – and that was absolutely the best feeling ever.

Apart from performing in front of visitors, I’m also trying new programming this summer too. I’m facilitating more creative writing workshops – six altogether this season – on different topics: women’s history, the environment, and immigration. The series of workshops is called “Lowell, In Our Own Words” – and my first workshop is this Thursday!

I’ll be using historic primary source material to come up with prompts, and I’ll start each workshop with a little interpretation. But then it’s mostly hands-off for me: the workshops are designed for the participants, the visitors. There’ll be large-group and small-group brainstorming conversations, some free-writing time, and time for people to share if they’d like. My goal with the workshops is to get visitors to realize how they experience Lowell’s history personally, as in, what are people’s own stories and experiences of women’s history, the environment, of immigration? It’s not set up for the workshops to be a writing class, but more for them to be conversations.

Since the first workshop is next week, apart from giving tours in June I’ve also been publicizing for the program. I’ve performed at some open mics in the area (at a local coffeehouse and at the Mass Poetry festival), drafted a press release, emailed community organizations about it, designed and printed flyers, and went on the local AM radio station to talk about it. And today I just found out that my program made it to the homepage of the NPS website!

my workshop series is listed under "Events"

my workshop series is listed under “Events”

I’m really excited and jazzed for the workshops, and I’m looking forward to Thursday.

And I’m even more psyched to be writing and performing again, and to be able to use that creative outlet in interpretation. I remember that when my supervisor observed one of my tours a while ago, her main recommendation was that I needed to “own it” (my conclusion) more. And while I don’t think spoken word/poetry has a lot of rules by default, as an art form, there are two that I stick with on principle: 1) when I write, it needs to be about something that moves me and 2) when I perform, I need to own it. Poetry gives me a way to do that in interpretation.

And I knew interpretation was fun, and I knew that I enjoyed it – but I never realized how much fun it could be, when it can be more creative. And if I’m really delivering a passionate statement in my interpretation, and the visitor can see it’s something I really care about, then I think they’re more likely to care about it too.

 

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Exploring The Resources

SCIP interns explored the resources at Lowell National Historical Park withe he GYF interns from Boston. The day included. Tour of the Lowell canal system led by SCIP Ranger Resi. We explored themes of leadership and compared and contrasted program goals. We met with management for a discussion ranging from personal pathways to engaging diverse communities including efforts to increase opportunities for diversifying
the NPS workforce.

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FriendSCIP

SCIP shared our day with some old friends and new friends today. We renewed our connections with Salem Maritime National Historic Site Future Leaders. The familiar faces welcomed us to their shop where we made a sign that will travel with us throughout the summer – SCIP HOME GROWN-

We also made new friends and shared ideas with youth from the Greening Youth Foundation working at Boston National Historical Park and Boston African American National Historic Site. We learned about their experiences with national parks and shared ours. We will continue the dialog tomorrow when we visit Lowell National Historical Park.

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Know Your History

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SCIP had the privilege to spend time with Michael Quijano-West on a beautiful afternoon in Salem. When asked how the National Park Service reaches out to local communities Michael spoke openly about the need for diversity within the National Park Service. If we recognize and embrace our cultural values we can use this knowledge to understand others. We can work to establish a Service that reaches out to communities in meaningful ways that respect our multi-cultural society. He shared that change is difficult but we can be the agents of change.

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