“Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart. If we are going to save environmentalism and the environment, we must also save an endangered indicator species: the child in nature.” – Richard Louv
There is something incredibly special about teaching children about nature. I’ve had the honor of working for Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center in Mansfield, Georgia for the past two summers as a camp counselor. I know, I know. How does being a camp counselor relate to anything in Warnell? I had this same thought when I first applied, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to work for the Department of Natural Resources. I quickly found passing the joy of nature onto children was nothing short of beneficial to my career.
In our first official week of camp, I taught one of our kids how to fish. Sounds boring and frustrating all at the same time, right? Maybe, until you watch that same kid catch his first fish, his eyes lit up with pure joy, followed by embarrassment when I asked to take a picture. You have those that are afraid to try something new, like shooting their first shotgun. One camper in particular was absolutely terrified to shoot, but hit a clay her first try. By the end of the week she was asking how to join her local shotgun team. Then you have the campers clearly obsessed with computer screens – “You don’t have TVs, are you trying to torture us? MUST GET HOME TO WIFI…” I had one camper particularly frustrated with me, always complaining during outdoor activities, even when he had a real, living salamander in his hand. By the end of the week he tells me, “Shelby, I don’t want to go home.” Best moment ever.
Beyond teaching, the experiences I gained are what made this internship (yes, I got internship credit by doing all of these awesome things) amazing. We learned about Red-cockaded Woodpeckers in Piedmont Wildlife Refuge from USFWS biologists, canoed with American Alligators in Bond Swamp, mist netted bats in Oconee National Forest, went electro-shocking with the state Fisheries Biologists, caved for endangered salamanders in North Georgia, and the list goes on. We also had public school teachers and home school parents come to ‘camp’ to learn about these environments, so they could pass on their new found knowledge to their students and children.
I cannot forget to mention all of the important connections I have made over these past two summers, both professional and personal. I feel comfortable saying I have several wildlife biologists and wildlife experts to call for career advice and recommendations. I have also made many close friends with the same interest and goals as me, and I look forward to watching them all progress in their careers. For those of you looking into summer internships, keep an open mind. There is always something to learn and experience.