A Life Changing Experience with the Conservation Youth Corps

Blog and photos by Kieran Coutts-Perez.

Kieran has been a volunteer of Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) since grade 9, when he volunteered in their Conservation Youth Corps (CYC) program. He is now studying biology at the University of South Wales in Pontypridd, Wales. Upon returning home this summer, he was hired as a summer student for CVC. This is the story, from his perspective, of how those first 35 volunteer hours with CYC made an impact on the next 5 years of his life.

When I was 14, I found myself in the same situation as every other new high school student in Ontario: where and how would I get 35 hours of community service done? I had always loved nature and the outdoors, but I had no idea what kind of work in the environmental sector was available. I was sold on volunteering with CYC when my class participated in CVC’s Branch Out program. Getting an opportunity to speak with an employee and seeing pictures of what volunteers actually did was what sparked my initial passion. The opportunity to help with electrofishing monitoring was the most exciting to me, and getting almost 90% of my community service hours needed to graduate was also a great incentive.

I applied to the CYC summer program and eagerly waited to see if I was accepted. Fortunately, I was placed into a crew out of a nearby high school with six other high school students of different ages. All of these individuals were amazing and fun people. Every day we would work hard together, make jokes and tell stories. It was nice having a range of ages on the crew. I could talk to the senior high school students and they would offer me their advice and wisdom. Our crew leader was exceptional, instructions were clear, and she made sure that we had a positive work environment.

During that week we worked on projects such as tree planting, invasive species removal, community gardening, and stream restoration. When it came to tree planting, I was very new to the task but the crew leaders made sure that everyone was comfortable and knew what to do. In the end, I found tree planting to be pretty easy, especially considering what I had just planted may live as long as I do, or longer.

The next day we visited beautiful Limehouse Conservation Area to remove an invasive species called garlic mustard. The sun was hot, the garlic mustard plentiful and the mosquitoes hungry. Luckily, our crew was well prepared and we filled countless bags of garlic mustard. This made me realize how much effort it took just to clear one site of a single invasive species, and I pondered how much work goes into the thousands of other environmental issues that are being worked on all around the world.

On the third day we visited the Ecosource Iceland Teaching Garden. I learned all the basics of food gardening, including community gardening, heirloom plants, and genetically modified organisms (GMO’s). I took a liking to the idea of community gardening after I was shown how it can build strong communities, allow everyone affordable access to healthy foods, and promote sustainability. To this day I believe that community gardens should be implemented in more urban communities.

On the last day we went to Rattray Marsh Conservation Area participate in stream restoration work. This was the most foreign task of the whole week, but it was such a cool experience. I was waist-deep in waders in a stream, attaching old Christmas trees to the side of the bank to help prevent erosion and restore habitat. I learned about erosion and how restoration efforts can change habitats for the better.

It was a perfect week and what summer is all about: getting outside, working hard while having fun, and meeting new people. By the next summer I had already completed my 40 hours but that didn’t mean I was going to miss out on CYC. I participated every summer for the rest of high school. I can say that I never had a bad experience and enjoyed each week of volunteering immensely.

I loved it so much that I joined CVC’s Frontline volunteer program and later moved up to becoming a member of the Frontline Steering Committee. When I graduated high school, I knew I wanted a career in environmental conservation. I decided to move to the UK to pursue a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology, where I did field work in South Africa and Mexico. This summer I’m employed with CVC’s Community Outreach team, assisting with the very program I started volunteering in.

To think all of this started with 5 days of summer volunteering when I was fourteen years old is crazy. It begs the question: what could stem from your week of CYC? For more information on the CYC program and to register for CYC this summer, please visit https://cvc.ca/cyc/summer-program/


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