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How Land Conservation Is Transforming Lives In Pittsburgh

I see every day how working in and for the natural world can change a young person.

09/28/2017 19:51 EDT
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by Jennifer Meccariello Layman, Regional Vice President for Partnership, Student Conservation Association

The City of Pittsburgh has over 3,000 acres of public parks, greenways, and open space, constituting 10 percent of the city’s land base, and the majority of its citizens live within a walkable distance (1/4 – 1/2 mile) to a public greenspace. And yet, every summer I visit Student Conservation Association high school crews working in Pittsburgh city parks, and I ask the same question: “How many of you have visited this park before you came to work at SCA?” On a good day, one, perhaps two members reluctantly raise their hands; on a normal day, no one does. But by the end of the program, many them are excited to return with their families to show off their accomplishments.

From building trails and structures to removing invasive plants, I see every day how working in and for the natural world can change a young person.

At the Student Conservation Association, we connect young people to public lands, stewardship and a more sustainable future. From building trails and structures to removing invasive plants to tagging and tracking wildlife to green infrastructure, I see every day how working in and for the natural world can change a young person. The combination of challenging outdoor work, projects that matter to the community, and the opportunity to work as a team strengthen the life skills that foster continuous growth in the high school and young adult members who work with us. Participants enjoy enhanced levels of individual leadership, social responsibility, self-confidence, emotional competence, communication, decision-making and more.

SCA’s long-running partnership with the City of Pittsburgh as well as many other public and private partners throughout the community allow us to directly affect the city and region by introducing young people to conservation work at a time when they are most open to it. SCA programs are incredibly impactful in urban communities like Pittsburgh where residents may encounter limited access to nature, service-learning, employment and other resources. After 60 years of engaging young Americans in hands-on service to the land — in national parks and urban greenscapes — SCA has refined a unique and dynamic process for empowering young people to become the best they can be.

SCA programs are incredibly impactful in urban communities like Pittsburgh where residents may encounter limited access to nature...

Seven out of 10 SCA alumni are working in careers or studying in fields that make the planet more sustainable. Ninety percent of them of them actively work to reduce their carbon footprint on a daily basis. And three-quarters of them regularly use alternative transportation.

Because of their SCA experience, participating youth are more connected to nature and more committed to conservation values, and they’re also benefitting from significant gains in their thriving mindset, which we know through research is powerful for opening the door to a lifetime of new experiences through which they continue to build the knowledge, skills, and social connections necessary to succeed and to lead.

At a time when questions of social justice dominate our national and local dialogue, and when changing climate is affecting our planet and our city in ways once unimaginable, SCA’s mission of building new generations of conservation leaders has never been more important.


Jennifer Meccariello Layman is a Regional Vice President for Partnership for the Student Conservation Association. She is working toward her Black Belt in Innovation Engineering and recently completed a research fellowship with the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Education focused on connected learning in out of school time programming. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two sons. 

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