By Kathy Mintchev, Greenwich Academy class of 2022
On Tuesday, Greenwich teens continued conservation efforts at Greenwich Point Park. A total of 28 participants in the Greenwich Youth Conservation Program (GYCP) worked in groups to plant oak trees in the park’s clambake area.
To celebrate the completion of the two-week session on Friday, August 6th, (as well as the continued success of the GYCP) coordinators invited partners to the tree-planting event. Two of those coordinators were Christina Nappi, Program Administrator, and Darrin Wigglesworth, Chairman of Parks & Rec’s Parks and Trees Division.
As the 14-15 year old teens dug holes for the saplings, Nappi commended them on their flexibility and hard work: “This group has definitely moved around. This summer they’re working at the clambake, at Tod’s a little further down near the mansion, Cos Cob Park, Binney Park, Pemberwick Park, and Byram Beach.”
In order to adhere to local social distancing requirements, the GYCP partnered with the Transportation Association of Greenwich (TAG) who supplied the GYCP with safe travel accommodation via buses.
Despite challenges which have arisen during the COVID-19 pandemic, the GYCP has continued its teen programs. Last year, it operated at a decreased capacity and offered its signature educational programs remotely.
This summer, Nappi noted a “record-breaking year” for applicants, with 220 applications submitted for only 112 spots in the program. Approximately 20 teens were removed off the wait list throughout the summer due to cancellations.
The session concluding on August 6th is the third of four two-week programs held throughout the summer. The final session will begin on Monday, August 9th.
The GYCP was founded over 40 years ago to provide teens a meaningful, paid work experience and an opportunity to serve the community. This “earn and learn” program is operated by the Department of Human Services in collaboration with Parks and Recreation.
On Tuesday, Kimberly Terrenoire, Chair of the GYCP Advisory Board for over nine years, spoke on the robust financial contributions which make the program possible.
“[The GYCP] is a public-private partnership. That 225 dollar a week check that the kids earn comes from private funding… so we have to fundraise rigorously every year,” Terrenoire said.
Terrenoire emphasized the importance of that partnership, noting the educational system which Human Services is able to provide: “One of the most popular services is the RITE program at Family Centers. They teach the teens about different job skills, resumé writing, job interview questions, and give them the confidence not to sell themselves short.”
The Reaching Independence Through Employment (RITE) Program aims to provide individuals with the necessary skills and support they need for self-sufficiency.
On a typical day, GYCP teens work until noon. During their lunch break, educational speakers from programs such as RITE engage them in meaningful activities. Guests introduce students to topics such as addiction and consent in a safe setting.
On Tuesday, Katelyn, a GYCP participant, explained why the educational programs are so successful. “They’re made to address each person, not just boys or girls. The messages we learn are useful to everyone.”
Kira, another teen in the program, agreed that she was glad to have been exposed to such information. As a student with an interest in the environment and conservation, she said that she hopes to take part in programs like GYCP in the future.
In terms of environmental outreach, the GYCP has much to celebrate. Wigglesworth said that he hopes the new trees planted will grow large enough to “shade out” invasive species in the park, slowing down their growth rate.
According to a 2016 report by Audubon Connecticut, three of the most prevalent invasive species at Greenwich Point Park are Porcelainberry, morrow’s honeysuckle, and mugwort.
While the teens planted trees on Tuesday, Wigglesworth brought attention to the wooded area to the side, which was overtaken with thick growths of mugwort.
Greenwich Point Park is particularly susceptible to environmental degradation by natural disasters such as hurricanes. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy devastated the park’s tree populations, taking out over 2,000 mature growths due to high winds and oversaturated ground. Mugwort is one species which easily takes root after natural habitats are cleared.
Nappi said that, in the fourth session, the GYCP’s main task will be to remove invasive species near the former Innis Arden mansion.
Terrenoire highlighted the collaborative nature which has helped the program thrive.
“I’ve never been on a board where everyone is so focused on how we can improve the program every year,” she said.
Upon completion of a GYCP session, teens fill out a survey to provide coordinators with feedback. Terrenoire underscored their impact on future programming.
“Give us your candid feedback. We get 112 surveys and we read every single one of them from beginning to end. We take it very seriously,” Terrenoire said.
Mary Hull, the longest serving GYCP board member, echoed Terrenoire’s message for the young teens.
“The wonderful thing is that we [coordinators] get together every year and ask you—we don’t sit on high, we listen instead. What you have to say matters, and that’s unusual in business and in government,” Hull said.
Hull gave tribute to Anne Egbert, the founder of the GYCP, for developing the program’s unique ethos. Egbert, a 40-year resident of Greenwich, recently passed away in July.
“Anne Egbert needs to be rewarded up there. I think she’s looking down and commending another good group. Annie, I see you clapping for these kids,” Hull said.
To conclude, Wigglesworth noted the weight of the teens’ contribution.
“Everyone did a great job. For many years from now you can come back here with your families and see what changes you made to the park.”
The Greenwich Youth Conservation Program is administered by the Department of Human Services and the Department of Parks and Recreation. For more information, please visit http://www.greenwichdhsfund.org/greenwich-youth-conservation-program/.