Teens Graduate From Cook County Forest Preserve Program

CHICAGO (CBS) — Darias Mohead, 17, signs another teen’s T-shirt and takes pictures with his new friends after graduation ceremonies near Wampum Lake Woods in Thorton, Ill.

“At first I was skeptical, but then I thought it would be a good experience,” he said. “We worked, learned about plants, and a lot of stuff. We did a lot of hands on activity. It was a great experience. I met a lot of new people.”

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Darias Mohead, 17, celebrating with his fellow graduates from “The Forest Preserves Experience” (WBBM/Lisa Fielding)

Mohead was one of 50 high school students who took part in the five-week summer employment and educational program.

Participants come from families who utilize the services of the Housing Authority of Cook County.

“We cut buck thorn, invasive species, we picked up litter. I learned about poison ivy and if you touch it what will happen. I liked canoeing the best,” said I’keya Williams, 18, Blum High School.

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I’keya Williams, 18, smiles with her certificates from “The Forest Preserves Experience” (WBBM/Lisa Fielding)

“When I asked them how many had ever been in the Forest Preserves, only a few raised their hands, then I asked them how many would come back and tell their friends, and they all raised their hands,” said Arnold Randall, General Superintendent, Cook County Forest Preserve.

Randall said the students were paid and learned first hand what it was like to have a job.

“They had to be on time everyday. They had to be here everyday,” he said.

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50 high school students took part in a five-week summer employment and educational program with Cook County forest preserves. (WBBM/Lisa Fielding)

The teens work to help their community’s environment through river and lake clean-up activities, tree mulching and invasive plant removal efforts in their local forest preserves.

“They learned basic skill sets and it’s great to have them working outdoors,” Randall said.

One goal of “The Forest Preserves Experience” is to retain youth who are passionate about conservation, and lead them into other Conservation Corps programs, such as the Chicago Conservation Leadership Corps.

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Darias Mohead with new friends made through “The Forest Preserves Experience” (WBBM/Lisa Fielding)

“We hope by participating in this summer jobs program, each participant knows the potential for future career paths related to conservation and the environment,” said Randall. “Whatever their interests may be, this is a growing industry that includes opportunities in environmental law, environmental advocacy, wildlife biology, forestry and more.”

To learn how your organization can partner with the Forest Preserves on summer youth employment opportunities, contact Alice Brandon, resource management programming manager for the Forest Preserves, by email at alice.brandon@cookcountyil.gov.

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