The National Park Foundation supported Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area's HomeStretch Internship Program as part of the America's Best Idea program which reaches underserved populations. Chattahoochee had a tremendous impact on six high school students who spent four weeks working and learning in the park. The teens, who were all first-time visitors to the park spent four days per week working on trail maintenance, improving drainage, clearing debris such as storm-damaged trees, removing fences and other similar activities.
Interns dedicated one day per week to educational activities, including field trips to Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, and a visit with the acting southeast regional National Park Service director.Additionally, all of the youth received training in various skills and disciplines such as CPR, first-aid and plant identification. In return, the teens introduced the park's social media team to Instagram as a way to reach younger audiences and also began conceptualizing the creation of environmental clubs at their schools. Marjorie Thomas, the program leader, shared that 'the youth accomplished a lot in a little bit of time. The work they did helped them to develop a sense of stewardship as they now want to take care of this place."
Three of the students volunteered to help with a summer camp and continue to spend time in the park outside of the ABI project -- they have remained in contact with the park and staff since the program Carol Swan, the program director at HomeStretch the partner organization that Chattahoochee worked with shared "At HomeStretch we operate on the premise that employment is a key to a family building back stability so that they never experience homelessness again.
The internship mirrored that principle in giving the six interns a platform to work hard learn and earn money. The kids still talk about it in Lifeskills classes. The positive impression it made on them will have a lasting legacy. They were challenged and rewarded in ways that they could not anticipate and HomeStretch is grateful to have assisted in a small way with such an impacted program and interact with a tremendous staff at NPS. The park continued to engage the interns and their families through various activities including hosting a resume workshop and a celebration banquet. Park visitors will continue to enjoy the new and improved trails for years to come.