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Eco Rangers as told by David Rittenhouse


Interviewee: David Rittenhouse (Pictured in top right photo)

AmeriCorps Youth Crew Leader Youth Outdoors/Eco Rangers

Interviewer: Whitney Wais

W: What’s your dream job?

D: Working at a farm nature center where half my
time is spent farming and the other half is spent doing environmental
education to farm goers.

W: If you could be an animal what would you be?

D: Great Blue Heron because they’re tall and gangly like me but very graceful and patient.

What’s been your favorite “question of the day?” (Every day a crew
member gets to pick a question to ask everyone else in the safety
stretch circle).

D: One of my youth asked “What do you want to do before you’re 20… uh… ur… before your 30?” (In reference to David being so old). There were answers ranging from being in a band to skydiving and getting good grades.

W: Could you explain the Eco Rangers program?

D: It is a partnership between the Saint Paul Youth
Job Corps and the City’s Park and Recreation Department. It is a job
readiness program for high school aged students. My role is a leader for
a group of six. Everyday we meet at Marydale Park and then bike to
different places where we work. We use bikes donated to the City and our
projects include taking care of rain gardens along the new light rail
and in the Como neighborhood and removing invasives from the West Side
of Saint Paul.

W: What is the most important thing that youth get out of the Eco Rangers program?

D: Through their first job they get an experience
that really prepares them for the workforce. It offers opportunities to
work on their resumes, build good teamwork skills and know what a job
with parks could look like. We have also been exposed to different
fields like horticulture and wildlife management. And though it is never
formally a part of our day, education is in every part of our work.
Usually the question gets asked, “Why are we doing what we are doing?”
And I think taking the time to talk about why definitely makes those learning moments more memorable in the end. 

W: What has your favorite day been like?

D: We were spreading seed of native grasses and
forbs (herbaceous plants) along the Mississippi river blvd. We were in
an area that as a young adult crew, we had previously come through and
removed buckthorn and garlic mustard. With the youth it was fun because
we got to bike a lot and cover a lot of ground that day. It was also
cool because I gave them a lot of ownership that day. I stood by the
bikes but they took the bucket and within my guidelines they got to
decide together how the area should be seeded. It was also so great
because it is the type of project where they can come back later and
really see their work.

Q: What is something you find yourself doing, that you suppose is a little out of the ordinary?

A: One day we biked around Lake Como to remove the
seed heads for Reed Canary Grass. It felt really silly. We were
essentially giving the grass a hair cut. And I’m sure it seemed really
funny to passer byers to see a group of young adults wearing hard hats
and safety vests walking around with hand pruners at the lakes shore,
meticulously clipping selective grasses.