Work Friends

Work Friends

Critters, weeds, trash… and cookies.

They’re all part of the programYouth@Work’s 2022 Summer Work-Based Learning Experience Program, specifically for the cohort working with Friends of East Rock Park. FERP has taken part in Youth@Work, a program of the New Haven Youth and Recreation Department providing young New Haveners “with workplace exposure, mentoring and school and community-based enrichment activities,” since 2008. This year, Y@W funding is covering the wages of three workers, while FERP has funded a fourth plus their supervisor.

The day I visited, participants Janyla Gaskins, Keturah Martin, Janaysha Nelson and Adner Rodriguez had arrived at 7 a.m. to beat the heat while spreading mulch at Orange Street and Cold Spring. Now they sat in the shade of a pavilion, enjoying salted browned butter toffee chocolate chip cookies baked by their supervisor, University of New Haven graduate student Maria Gruber. “It’s a really great opportunity for people who don’t want to be at home and want to be outside, for people who love nature,” Rodriguez says, who, along with Martin, is working at East Rock Park for a second summer.

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At the end of the first week, the biggest surprises for some were the amount of bugs—spiders, slugs, caterpillars with eggs—and the need to remove tires off a trail. They’d learned about native plants, including poison ivy, and invasive species; weeded and raked and found a turtle; and cleaned up the Cedar Hill and College Woods playgrounds. Everyone was impressed, but not surprised, by the amount of litter, especially after the Fourth of July but also the rest of the time. “You would not believe the trash every single day, all around the roads,” Gruber says. “Throw out your trash in the garbage cans. They’re not far away. They’re everywhere.”

Some of those cans are even brightly colored, having been painted by the 2021 cohort. Gruber says they try to switch up the activities and is thinking about painting park benches and gardening at the Pardee Rose Garden along with picnicking at the summit, learning about the park’s history from FERP leader David Shimchick and kayaking the river. Overall, Shimchick says, “It is a win for the kids and a win for the park.”

For literal glimpses into their work and activities, check out the FERP/Y@W blog, currently written by Gruber. Also in the mix are Y@W site monitor Naomi Carroll, who stops by to check on the kids, and a Greenspace intern with the Urban Resources Initiative, who directs a project each week. “I actually did Youth@Work when I was 14 years old,” Carroll says. “It’s an amazing experience for high school students to get into the work field, to get some experience, to build relationships with nonprofits within the New Haven community. It’s a good way to get some money, save for school.”

After their cookie break, Gaskins, Martin, Nelson and Rodriguez and Gruber headed off to pull invasive knotweed at Orange Street and English Drive, to make room for native plants and to open up sight lines for hikers, bikers and joggers—just the next way the Y@W FERPers are making East Rock a prettier, healthier, more enjoyable park for all.

Written by Heather Jessen. Images 1 and 3 provided courtesy of the FERP/Y@W blog. Image 2 photographed by Heather Jessen.

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