Woodlands Youth Crew’s Successful Season

October 17, 2023

If you took a stroll through Prospect Park’s scenic woodlands this summer, there’s a good chance you spotted the summer Woodlands Youth Crew members hard at work on restoration projects to keep the park’s woodland areas healthy and vibrant. The Woodlands Youth Crew (WYC) is an essential part of the Alliance’s dedicated staff that works to restore and sustain Brooklyn’s essential forest. The program, which offers spring, summer and fall sessions, is team-based with a focus on collaboration. This beloved youth employment program provides teens with training, mentorship and professional experience in environmental conservation and park stewardship. This year, led by Kevon Hines, the Alliance’s Woodlands Youth Crew Program Supervisor, the group undertook important park projects while participating in professional development and skill-building workshops.

Woodlands Youth Crew in Prospect Park.

Prospect Park Alliance’s Woodlands Youth Crew members engage in a plant-identification workshop. c. Woodlands Youth Crew Program Supervisor, Kevon Hines

This summer’s group of 16 youth from eight local high schools included both first-time crew members, some of whom were entirely new to environmental work, and returning crew members with experience to share. The fruits of this crew’s skilled work can be seen throughout the park’s woodlands: the team replaced fencing along the Ambergill path near the entrance to the woodland Ravine to provide long-term erosion control. The resourceful group also utilized logs from downed trees in other areas of the park to fortify the steep slope surrounding the path for increased erosion control, and weeded the area to prepare for the planting of new climate-adaptive native plants. The group also built upon last summer’s youth crew work and completed the installation of a cedar railing to keep park goers on-path and protect fragile woodland habitats.

After wrapping up his first season with the Alliance, Kevon reflected on his own connection with youth programming and the role it plays in his current career. “At the age of 15, my very first job was in a similar program at East New York Farms and I learned from my supervisor there how essential it was to lead with an emphasis on being there for youth as people: to build the job-specific skills but also learn about the qualities to be an adult in the working world. That’s what I try to instill here in the lives of the youth crew members. My experience being involved in this work in my own youth with such a dedicated supervisor is what led me to have a love for this work.”

Woodlands Youth Crew 2023 in Prospect Park.

The Woodlands Youth Crew in action performing essential work to sustain Prospect Park’s beloved forest. c. Alliance Woodlands Youth Crew Manager, Kevon Hines

One returning crew member, Kayla Jean Baptise, shared that one of the most enriching aspects of the role was the collaboration with employees across the Alliance: “My favorite part was the opportunity to connect with different Ecological Zone Gardeners on the Landscape Management team. Not only did they share knowledge about the different ways the park is managed in their zone, but also how important the roles they play [in supporting the park ecosystem] are too. Every summer I’ve been here [the Alliance] always takes the time to factor in the presence of young minds and constantly incorporates enjoyment with our tasks,” Kayla shares, “in my time as a WYC member, I’ve learned serious time management skills by balancing multiple tasks and responsibilities while ensuring that the task at hand was completed within its time frame.”

In addition to the crucial work of these youth to sustain our urban forest, it’s clear that their projects go hand-in-hand with leadership development and mentorship. “My biggest takeaway and the most rewarding part of the season is helping them become the best young adults that they can be,” says Kevon. “ Many come in wanting to learn about plants and nature but leave with a much broader interest in what we do and how careers in this field can develop over time. The WYC members learn to lean on their peers and learn from one another. It’s both about teaching and allowing youth to then teach their peers. This shows me not only are they retaining this information, but understanding it to the extent where they can now feed the world: they’re putting that knowledge to work and sharing what they know.”

Jamiah Shepard, a WYC member who returned this summer season in a new leadership role on the Woodlands Youth Crew known as a “Near Peer,” shares a love for the ecology in the park as a highlight of her work. “An important skill that I’ve learned is the ability to identify species within the park. Not necessarily just trees, but also flowers, shrubs and even certain insects! No two things are the same, the constant discovery of new life around me definitely made my summer.” Above all, Jamiah shares that “meeting, teaching and learning from new and old individuals alike was the best part. The work we do revolves around teamwork and communication, and I’m glad to have come back for another season and see people from years back, as well as laugh with new faces. I’m glad to have been on such an amazing crew!”

As the Alliance looks ahead to upcoming seasons of the Woodlands Youth Crew, Kevon and his team share an excitement for what lies ahead, “This was the first season where we incorporated workshops and a curriculum-related component. This really resonated with the group, and in future years I plan to keep this momentum and increase the workshops we offered.” This year, the team engaged in workshops focused on environmental and ecological justice, and daily skills like financial literacy, as well as hands-on plant-identification skill workshops led by  Alliance Senior Forest Ecologist Howard Goldstein.

Learn more about the Woodlands Youth Crew and how to apply for future seasons.