Meshing the National Park Service’s A Call to Action’s five themes, and the Centennial ‘Find Your Park’ campaign as inspiration, Cape Lookout National Seashore (CALO) seeks to move forward with its partners in a Neighborhood Ecology Corps program that was piloted in 2015. The on-going, 3-year (30-weeks each year) program focuses on nature and community, with about 35 middle school students from underserved Raleigh, NC neighborhoods. It aims to develop environmentally literate citizens who have a deep connection to the natural world which creates a holistic view of their own inner-city community, while also inspiring an opportunity for the kids to ‘find their park’. CALO will be one natural place this may happen. Or, perhaps there may be an adventitious discovery of a lesser –known wild space, such as a municipal park, or an empty lot that they realize as ‘their park’.
This program uses interactive experiences for the kids to engage in meaningful activities. Each year, they explore their neighborhood environment, open-space conservation, community health, community building, civic stewardship and public policy in afternoon/weekend sessions. First, they explore natural open-spaces away from their neighborhoods, and over time expand into the bond of nature in their area, giving them perspective on the state, assets, and needs of their own locales from the view of culture, ecology, health, livability, and safety. By immersive events at regional, state, and national parks, the missing link that has prevented environmental justice advocates and conservationists in finding common ground, and becoming advocates for each other is learned. Unlike programs that solely address neighborhood issues or only address remote conservation, these kids come to know that these are not unrelated endeavors – both are in continuum with the other. The kids tackle the harms of environmental injustices in their areas and take action to make neighborhoods healthier and safer.