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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Dayspring Silent Retreat Center, Germantown, Maryland, USA

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Dayspring Silent Retreat Center, Germantown, Maryland, USA
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Registered: December 2019
City/Town/Province: Germantown
Posts: 1
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I have been in a global ecology magnet program at my high school for 4 years now. I took part in the bi-monthly field trips ridding invasives, beautifying a local university, or conducting stream studies. My family recycled, thrifted, and enjoyed nature hikes. But what was I personally doing for the Earth? I wanted something to call my own, something to be responsible for. Something specific that I cared about. The answer would come months later.

In the summer of 2019, a friend and I attended an opportunity called the Youth Leadership Academy hosted by an organization called Plan International. After a full week of gender equality workshops and poverty discussions, we were well-versed in the United Nations 17 sustainable development goals. Leaving that week's eye-opening experiences at DC's Catholic University, I felt ready to transform lives and solve climate change from our neighborhood outward.

This is what inspired my Apprentice Ecologist Project, which would soak up my excitement from YLA, and direct my need for action towards something tangible. I looked forward to being a part of the Nicodemus Wildlife Project, which matched my values of youth engagement and conservation. The project would also help me graduate from my high school's Global Ecology program, which required us to conduct research. My partner and I ourselves wanted a project with tangible results and an impact on how other people lived. We wanted to do something that required labor, and something that would bring our city of Germantown together since it is not incorporated and lacks a sense of community. And I wanted to begin a green-living practice that felt impactful and meaningful. I felt I couldn't compare to my vegan friends and Chesapeake Bay advocates at my school. I wanted to be a part of the Climate Change fight.

With a plethora of parameters, it seemed impossible to meet every expectation. But at long last, after brainstorming for weeks with the help of our sponsor-to-be, we decided to create soil from our community's food and yard waste collected and put in a mega-compost pile. Through the process of carbon-sequestration, our composting would bring airborne greenhouse gases back to the earth in our created soil. This would address three Sustainable Development Goals, it would include research on carbon sequestration and civic-efficacy, produce tangible bags of nutritious gardening soil to redistribute, AND bridge city-wide relationships, specifically from a place that was yearning for community engagement. Dayspring Retreat Center (3 minutes away from my house) and its 210 acres of property became the host of our compost pile. This was the epicenter of our project; Dayspring was where our sponsor worked, where our pile was located, and where the tools and composting experts we needed were. Thus it was a convenient meeting/planning space.

I quickly found that my role among my partner and sponsor was the initiator, the lead driving force of the project. It was me who, among weeks of talking and planning, finally decided to set up the darn pile! I was always the one making plans on when to meet or turn the pile, what to write for a $150 Small Grant from Plan International (which we got!), when to ask for help from our environmental science teacher, and when to realize our project needed to take on a new direction. For instance, after being let down by 17 survey respondents indicating they'd contribute to our pile, I decided the solution had to be more local instead of spread across five cities, for our food scrap collecting efforts to be realistic and effective. While mulling over my options for increasing the volume of our nitrogen input (mostly food scraps), I thought of the number 5. If I can get just five more households to collect food scraps, and finish off the year strong before sealing our compost pile for break down, I'll be satisfied. My sponsor and I met, setting deadlines for ourselves, deciding that after composting in the winter, we could host a Composting Workshop and appreciation dinner in the spring. But first, finish this thing!

So two weeks ago, I wrote what can and cannot be collected onto five index cards, with contact information on the back. I strutted off my front doorstep to five houses, handing out HomeDepot buckets for collection. My pitch to each neighbor consisted of preliminary small talk, explaining my senior project, then finally requesting to "collect food scraps and we'll do the rest!" All five happily agreed.

A week later, I returned to my neighbors to collect their buckets of food scraps. I joined my sponsor and father in turning the soggy, full, heavy mass of nature that was still standing amid Dayspring's barren garden. I squinted my eyes as I peered into the pile. I could see eggshells, twigs, leaves, pumpkin rinds, and, even further down...DIRT! Real, mushy, soil that wasn't there before. I couldn't help but stick my hands in the muck, but it was such a recognizable consistency that I considered it beautiful.
"We did it!" I cheered, raising my grimy fingers for my helpers to see. They were in awe as well. We had waited months for this, and it made all the discussions of uncertainty, the pile checkups in 30-degree weather, the trips to and from the car to unload leaf bags and food-filled buckets - it was all worth it, something was happening.

I realized how of course not everything will fall into place. If it's that easy, it's not really an achievement. But accepting the learning process, and pushing through setbacks - that's when the life skills are picked up, and when the recognition of an accomplishment settles in. I wouldn't trade this eye-opening and educational journey of a project for the world. I'm grateful to have learned immensely about myself, about communication, flexibility, and how to mobilize a group for a change.

But I am more proud to have offered an opportunity of climate action to those around me, to have given my family a chance to fight climate change every day, to have bridged connections I never could have predicted, and to have fought for a purpose much greater than my eyes could see. The Apprentice Ecologist Project has only confirmed a career in non-profits and advocacy, for children, for girls, for the world.
Date: December 31, 2019 Views: 3698 File size: 23.5kb, 308.4kb : 640 x 827
Hours Volunteered: 89
Volunteers: 3
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 18 & 15-18
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