DJ woke up early in the morning Saturday, October 23rd to find that it was raining outside. The rain wouldn’t have been a big deal – it’s sort of expected in Seattle in October – but DJ had made plans to spend the day outdoors removing invasive species at Cheasty Greenspace in Southeast Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood.
“It’s okay. We’ve served in the rain before – LOTS of times.” She says through a big smile as she hacks through another thorny blackberry tendril from a bush that’s about twice as tall as she is.
DJ has, in fact, served in the rain “lots of times.” As one of City Year’s Young Heroes last year, DJ volunteered more than 130 hours on service projects that included removing invasive species, visiting a retirement community, sorting food at a food bank and visiting the Seattle Mayor’s Office to deliver letters from middle school students detailing their priorities for the city.
But this Saturday, her project was different. Removing blackberry bushes and scotch broom was the task at hand, but DJ’s personal project was to help recruit a new team of middle school students to pick up where she left off. As a freshman in high school, DJ is trying to set an example for City Year’s new service-learning students from Aki Kurose Middle School and Asa Mercer Middle School.
These “After School Heroes” will serve in dozens of projects at their schools and in their communities. Saturday’s service project at Cheasty was completely planned and executed by City Year’s 2010 Young Heroes alumni as a recruitment tool for City Year’s 2011 After School Heroes.
DJ and her partners identified a neighborhood located near Aki Kurose and Asa Mercer middle schools because they wanted to make transportation convenient for this year’s middle school students. They chose environmental service because “It’s fun and you don’t need a lot of training to accomplish a lot of work.” They created fliers and posted them at Asa Mercer and at Aki Kurose. DJ also posted fliers at her high school, figuring that her fellow classmates should also have the opportunity to come out to serve.
The day started at 10am with more than thirty shivering volunteers standing in a circle in the rain. After a couple of getting-to-know-you games and a brief safety demonstration, the students were sent west across a field to hack away at acres of 10-feet-tall blackberry and scotch broom bushes. It was a daunting task, but it wasn’t long before they could see the impact they were making.
After a couple of hours and a couple of band-aids (blackberry bushes have thorns), the students broke for a spectacular lunch of pizzas donated by Tutta Bella in Columbia City and sandwiches donated by Tat’s Delicatessen in Pioneer Square. By the time the students went back to work, the rain had let up and small sunbeams were shining down on the enormous pile of weeds they had pulled.
Earth Corps helped the students plan and implement the project, and they supplied the tools and vital logistical expertise.
City Year sends a huge THANK YOU to DJ and her teammates (especially BJ and Keandrae) who planned this event, and to the Horner Foundation, whose funding helped make this project and dozens more possible throughout the year.
Text and photos by Adam Nance