By David Fowler
A group of students from Studio 345 went to Yellowstone National Park in July on a once-in-a-lifetime camping trip.
But their experience runs deeper than just a trip to Wyoming, thanks to Park Journeys, Inc., a youth development organization which seeks to educate, energize, and empower urban and rural youth through exploration, wellness and civic engagement.
By partnering with Park Journeys, students active in Studio 345 – the Arts & Science Council’s out-of-school youth development program for high school students – have been able to participate in a unique 16-week program focused on community service and stewardship, nature and outdoor experiences, and civic involvement.
During the first phase of the program, which revolved around mental and physical commitment to self and community (with a heavy emphasis on community service), students worked closely with The Relatives, a youth shelter and support system in Charlotte focused on keeping kids safe and families together.
“We’ve hung out with the kids, helped repaint their kitchen, and planted flowers in their garden. It feels good to help people out, and it built up our teamwork before we went on our trip to Yellowstone,” said Jordan Jeffries, a student at Studio 345 participating in Park Journeys. “It forced us to work together like we (had) to do out in the wild.”
The second phase emphasized wildlife, ecosystems and geology. Before their trip to Wyoming, participants prepared for what they would encounter in Yellowstone by going on smaller camping trips locally. Those experiences exposed them to new things and empowered them to be both self-sufficient and a part of larger team while camping in the national park.
“It’s given me an opportunity to get out of Charlotte and do something I’ve never done before,” said participant Daquan Barnette. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to do and see new things.”
The final phase will happen this fall and will focus on participation in and ownership of the democratic process. One local Park Journeys participant will be selected to join Park Journey delegates from across the country in Washington, D.C., to meet with national policy makers, showing students that they have a voice in the democratic process.
“It’s been really great just to work with these kids in the community and in nature,” said Emily Pfahl, one of the trip leaders. “It’s rewarding to give them an experience that they will remember forever and to see them grow as a group in the process. I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.”