How One Summer Can Inspire a Lifetime of Conservation Action
By: LA Allen, M.Ed., Youth and Outreach Manager, The Nature Conservancy in Georgia
What does the future hold for Georgia? It’s a big question, and one to which conservation professionals like my peers at The Nature Conservancy and other organizations dedicate their careers. While no one can predict the future, we are putting the people and science in place that will set our state on a path for sustainable success that allows people and nature to thrive.
The Nature Conservancy’s Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) program is one way that we’re cultivating the next generation of conservation leaders. Each summer, high school students from 44 environmentally-focused urban schools in Georgia and several other states participate in a month-long paid residential internship program where they work hand in hand with conservation scientists in the field. In July, eight students from two metro Atlanta high schools and one from Birmingham, Alabama, will set off on adventures in nature on the Georgia coast and at one of our largest areas of focus on land protection near Columbus, as well travel to Alabama and Florida. One team will travel to Maine. Partnered with trained mentors, the LEAF interns will work on urban conservation, trail maintenance, tree monitoring, invasive plant removal and more.
Creating a well-rounded student experience is a key component of LEAF, so the students also will visit college campuses, manage a budget together and participate in outdoor recreation like rafting, horseback riding and hiking during their conservation internship. These real-world experiences not only connect urban youth to nature, but also increase their awareness of high education and career paths in conservation.
At The Nature Conservancy, we believe that Georgia’s future depends on our capacity to develop leaders with informed vision and unwavering passion for the environment. We must engage people who have traditionally been under-engaged in the conservation space to do so. The accomplishments of our Georgia LEAF alumni, including acceptance into the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program, military service, and academic excellence and student leadership at top schools including Georgia Tech and The University of Georgia reflect the positive impact of internship and mentoring programs, not only on the lives of the participating youth but also on the future of the state we proudly call home.