In 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau recorded that 80.7% of the U.S. population lives in urban areas. With the closest national park out of reach to most Americans, Foundation-funded Mountains to Main Street Urban Ambassador Program (M2M) aims to expand park experiences for youth starting in the cities where they live. 2018 M2M ambassadors gathered in Grand Teton this month for a one-week summit devoted to planning park-focused projects in their home cities. Two ambassadors, Aurelia Casey and Jared Wahkinney, share their reflections on their week in Grand Teton and their upcoming programs to engage their communities in national parks.
Jared Wahkinney: Norman, Oklahoma
As a citizen of the Comanche Tribe, my project attempts to show tribal youth that integrating our cultural history with science, technology, engineering, and math can help lead them to a variety of potential career fields.
The week-long program in the Tetons seemed to fly by and all of the connections made were very meaningful. Reflecting on the past week, I feel like I can take on any task thrown at me. Meeting the first African-American director of the National Park Service, Bob Stanton, was the icing on the cake. As emerging leaders, it is important to know where we’ve been to know where we’re going. We, as young people, are trying to find the right trail in our lives and careers. It feels good to know we have people like Bob Stanton who have cleared the trails for us thus far. Time to build on it.
Aurelia Casey: Staten Island, New York
Grand Teton pushed a button inside of me called motivation. The week was enlightening and gave me a new outlook on community engagement, environmental education, and how to be a better person. Meeting Mr. Bob Stanton was the pepperoni on top of the great pizza that was Mountains to Main Street! His presence was massive, and the words of wisdom delivered to us by his years of experience as a black person navigating society’s challenges gave me hope.
I am excited for my upcoming summer with the black, brown, and white youth of Bedstuy Brooklyn. I plan to give these students the opportunity to discover the national monument lying in the heart of New York City: African Burial Ground National Monument. I’m aiming to foster a love of the outdoors among young people and provide insight into history. Whether it be through STEAM, writing, or history, I am forever grateful that Grand Tetons sparked that curiosity in me again.
Thanks to our partners Grand Teton National Park, GroundworkUSA, and Teton Science Schools for helping make this program a reality for the third consecutive year. To learn more about the Foundation’s Youth Engagement Initiative, visit here.