Thanks to a local nonprofit, student volunteers from some of Richmond’s underserved communities got out of the city this summer.
Groundwork RVA, a nonprofit that works with middle school- and high school-age students on beautification projects, enlisted about 35 students in its inaugural summer program. From late June through August, participants took camping trips to Shenandoah National Park, dirtied their hands in local parks and battlefields, and took a crash course in permaculture.
“It’s all about these kids who are so overlooked in so many ways,” says Giles Harnsberger, the nonprofit’s executive director. “The public schools are going to take a long time to get on track, so this stuff needs to happen, or we’ll lose generations of people who are just stuck.”
Students worked in the National Park system to weed and plant, clear trails, and assist rangers with the nighttime recording of wildlife for an ongoing project. The experience doubles as a summer job (Groundwork pays its students a stipend) and an introduction to environmental work.
“The park service realized that if you catch kids early enough and teach them about these things, they’re more likely to come back to the national parks when they’re older,” says Kristen Allen, chief of natural and cultural resource management at Richmond National Battlefield Park.
The summer program is only a part of what Groundwork students do, Harnsberger says. Local projects to rehabilitate blighted properties, fix up trails and build greenways for cyclists and pedestrians allow them to play an active part in improving their communities.