A Week at the Nature Sanctuary

YVC is proud to be part of the Bank of America Student Leaders program here in Kansas City. Bank of America sponsors five interns to spend eight weeks working at YVC and learning the ins and outs of a nonprofit. These students just completed their junior or senior years of high school and help YVC Headquarters in addition to serving as extra support on YVC of Greater Kansas City’s summer projects. Jason Cocjin, one of this summer’s Student Leaders and a former YVC Youth Volunteer, tells the story of just one week of his internship below:

You wouldn’t think that anybody would choose to do heavy manual labor outdoors with temperatures close to 100 degrees. However, that’s exactly what a group of youth did with YVC of Greater Kansas City this summer. And believe it or not, they didn’t even want to go home at the end of the project! Why did they have so much fun working in the heat? Because it was an awesome YVC project. Here’s what happened:

The week started just like any other. Monday, Danielle (the Team Leader) and I waited with anticipation to see what this new group of volunteers would bring us. As is common on YVC projects, almost none of our 12 volunteers knew each other. We played an icebreaker game so our group could get to know each other a little before our work began. Unfortunately nobody seemed too keen on opening up; they seemed more interested in how much longer until they could leave.

Seeing this, Danielle and I decided to get started straight away. Danielle brought the younger boys and the girls to go rake and spread mulch along a trail at the nature center while I took a group of older boys to wheelbarrow and spread gravel along a different trail. At first it wasn’t too bad, but after an hour and a half, my arms felt like they were about to fall off. I could tell the volunteers were getting tired too, and I thought they would start complaining. Instead, they did something that caught me completely off guard. One of the boys started adding even more gravel to his wheelbarrow! He challenged the other volunteers saying that he wasn’t even tired yet, and before I knew it, all of them were filling their wheelbarrows and speeding off, the competitive nature of 16 year old boys taking over. This is how those boys bonded.  By the end of the day they were panting and exhausted, but if you didn’t already know them, you would have thought they were best friends. It was amazing to see how close these volunteers had gotten after working together for only six hours. Even better was Danielle said the same thing was happened in her group; the younger boys and the girls had a really great time and got a lot accomplished.

After that, everything went unbelievably well. Everyone started participating in the games, everyone was excited to be there, and I don’t think I could’ve asked for anything else. By the time we packed up to leave on Wednesday, we had all the things they wanted us to do finished, and we still had one more day! The agency employees were so impressed because they knew how hard the youth must have worked to finish so fast, and to show their appreciation they planned a cookout for the volunteers on Thursday. We spent Thursday hanging out, eating hotdogs and then in the afternoon Pat, one of the ladies from the agency, took us on an amazing walk through the sanctuary, teaching us about the park we worked so hard to improve. That was one of the best parts: the kids really got to learn about how much of a difference they made and their importance to the Parkville Nature Sanctuary.

By the end of the week, it was like a completely new group of kids. The same people who were anxiously staring at their watches at the beginning of the week were now asking their parents if they could stay a little bit longer at the end of the day so they could keep playing with their new friends. It was so easy for me to see not only how much the kids had an impact on the park, but also how this park helped these kids grow. I am happy I got to serve alongside these volunteers but I’m also sad because I’ll never be with the same group of kids again.

If I signed up for this internship and only experienced this one week, I would have been happy, but I have three more projects to go to and I can’t wait to see what else is in store for me.