By Josh Bootsma
THORNTON, Ill. (July 28, 2021) – Over 100 orange and gray clad youth assembled at Wampum Lake Thursday morning to celebrate completion of the five-week Forest Preserve Experience Program.
Joined by leaders and friends of the program, the 116 graduating students gathered to share their experiences working in local forest preserves, perform skits, and meet and listen to leaders who help made the program possible.
A collaborative program
Coming off last summer’s virtual version of the program, this year marks the sixth iteration of providing summer jobs for local youth in Cook County’s forest preserves. The Forest Preserve Experience Program is a collaboration between the Forest Preserves of Cook County and Friends of the Forest Preserves. The program is supported by the Housing Authority of Cook County, the Forest Preserve Foundation, and the Christopher Family Foundation.
Multiple locations for work and fun
The teens were split between seven local forest preserves — including Sweet Woods, Jurgensen Woods, Calumet Woods, and Joe Orr Woods — where they worked combatting invasive species like Buckthorn and performing other “ecological restoration” tasks. The group also made use of the Forest Preserves’ canoe and kayak opportunities.
“People don’t only want to work all day, right? These are high school students and for most of them, this is their first job so we have kind of a mixed approach with that. We do restoration and we also do a lot of fun, environmental activities, to kind of create that bond with the forest preserves and with nature in general,” said Friends of the Forest Preserves Associate Program Director Melissa Agarwal.
More families and students supported
More students participated in this year’s program than in years past due to a quarter of a million dollars made possible through the Cares Act, according to Benjamin Cox, the executive director of Friends of the Forest Preserves.
Only students whose families utilize the services of the Housing Authority of Cook County are eligible for the program. The summer workers were paid $10.50 an hour for roughly 24 hours of work each of the five weeks of the program.
Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle was present at the graduation ceremony to congratulate the teens, and took the opportunity to urge those present to be “evangelists” for vaccination efforts.
The ceremony ended with skits and performances done by each of the seven crews.
For more information on the Forest Preserve Experience Program, visit fpdcc.com