In Their Own Words: Looking Back on Nature Works 2017

Nature Works, Forest Park Forever's innovative high school workforce development program, provides 10 local high school students with paid summer internships that combine field experience and educational opportunities in conservation and environmental issues. Made possible by generous grants from Boeing and Wells Fargo/National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Nature Works has twin upshots: crew members learn valuable 'green job' skills, and Forest Park's waterway and surrounding vegetative areas receive much-needed care. 

After the program's fourth season came to a close earlier this month, we asked Nature Works Field Coordinator Billy Haag (pictured below, second from left in the top row) to share his experience leading this program and working with the crew. His reflections — as well as quotes from each of the 10 crew members — can be found below:

The 2017 Nature Works crew

The 2017 Nature Works crew

Now that the crew has left I am struck with a sense of reminiscence. I think back to before the program began when the worried thoughts, stress-filled planning and nervous excitement controlled my existence. Every possible outcome and ridiculous question circled around my head. "How do I lead a crew of high school students into the unknown natural world?"

Luckily, the constant worrying was thrown right out the window as soon as the first day hit! This young crew blew all expectations out of the water. Each and every day, they came into the Visitor Center ready for whatever I tossed their way. There were always some tired eyes, but nevertheless they hopped out of their chairs with a smile, piled into the van and happily took off for that day's work site. No matter how high the bar was set, they always strove to exceed my lofty expectations. Now they can continue to visit Forest Park over the years, travel to our zones and know they broke the ground for something that will be enjoyed by millions of future visitors.

Along with a sense of pride for what we accomplished, a feeling of sadness remains. These 10 unique, talented, awkward and motivated individuals who I became so close with over the last eight weeks will not be coming back to work next Monday. The games of contact, our lunchtime naps and the crowded van rides have reached their end. A lull in the whirlwind of Nature Works does allow for a moment to look back and reflect on how amazing my team and this experience truly were. I couldn’t have asked for a better crew. All I can hope is that somewhere along this journey they grew inspired to take an interest in our natural world, whether it was through the work, the educational experiences or even something I said during our time together. — Billy Haag

The Earth is a house that holds all the rooms that all types of life occupy. It is not merely a responsibility, but a duty to care for the maintenance of one’s house and preserve its good health. This program has opened my eyes to this house known as Earth.  Every place on this Earth has value, so I should treat this house as the home I live in, because it is. 
— Jada
I’m really glad I was a part of this. I honestly feel much more prepared for college as I search through possible majors. I also feel a lot closer with the natural world around me. I’ve always loved nature, but I now feel as if I can put my love to good use. With a sense of deep gratitude and nostalgia, I conclude with a final ‘thank you.’
— Miranda
Over these past eight weeks, I’ve been doing things that I thought I wouldn’t do and I also met people who I thought I wouldn’t even meet and get to know. I like how we all got different personalities and how we don’t judge, we just accept who they are.
— Jaila
I had so much fun all summer bonding with my teammates. I don’t want that to end. But all good things must come to an end, I guess. This summer has been the best one of my entire life, I will always remember it.
— Liz
I can truly say that this has been a fantastic experience. Coming in on day one, I had no idea what to expect. I had no idea what we would be doing or who I would be working with. Luckily, it turned out to be one of the most memorable summers I’ve had.
— Aaron
These eight weeks — man, they blew by so fast, but I just never knew that you could have such a strong connection with a group of individuals. We shared laughs, and I wouldn’t ask for a different group of individuals ever again.
— Michael
This has been a fantastic summer! When I first started, I didn’t know what to expect to get out of the program. Walking out though I’ve gained so much. I have so much knowledge of the ecosystem. I have also gotten to know some amazing people who I wouldn’t have otherwise met.
— Sara
I am so glad that I applied for Nature Works and I am beyond grateful for all the opportunities we’ve been given through the program. There have been times when I’ve been frustrated and annoyed, but the good times outweigh them by far. I wouldn’t trade these experiences, both good and bad, for anything.
— Gabby
By the end of the program, I came to understand the long-term goals of the project — that what I’m doing now will have a lasting impact down the road — and I think that’s powerful and rewarding. More importantly, this job didn’t feel like a job. All the educational experiences were extremely useful and interesting. Getting paid to learn is awesome.
— Max
I hope that I’ve made a small impact on the big picture of restoration in Forest Park, and hope that this great program continues to flourish. I want to personally thank Billy, Jean and Kevin for teaching me critical environmental knowledge and skills that have improved my character.
— Peter