Thursday, October 31, 2013

Girls Can Be Scientists Too

Girls from the YWCA in Olympia, participating in a discussion panel
for women in STEM careers.

Photo: YWCA
 When you think of careers in science, technology, engineering or math (fields most commonly referred to as STEM) what is the first visual that comes to mind? I'm willing to bet the first thing you pictured was an older man, with white fluffy hair, wearing protective goggles, plugging away at a chemistry set, a computer mother board, a black board covered in chalky white numbers. You know, that Einstein type! This makes sense. I learned this past week that women make up only 24% of STEM careers thanks to a PSA by Girls without Limits, part of the YWCA in Olympia, Washington. But this wasn't all I learned from this great group of girls.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife began a partnership with the YWCA of Olympia a few years ago by offering transportation funding to get girls out into nature, and the community. Now, we sponsor two girls each year to attend summer camps. In addition, our female employees frequent YWCA events to assist girls in developing the skills, empowerment and energy to pursue careers in STEM and conservation. These opportunities help mold the girls into successful women, and provide them leadership opportunities that ordinarily might have been perceived as things only men could do.

The YWCA of Olympia offers a number of different opportunities for girls and women, and is constantly looking for more. Aside from connecting girls with professional women, during school breaks, such as spring break, winter and summer, they provide camps for girls offering endless opportunities to learn new skills, work with mentors, and make life-long friendships with other girls. Throughout the school year, leaders from the YWCA host after-school groups where girls can come to talk about challenges and successes in their lives. As for connecting with nature, YWCA girls make frequent trips, some lead by U.S. Fish & Wildlife employees, to wildlife refuges and other local natural areas to learn about wildlife, conservation and careers!

It is quite obvious that the YWCA and their partners are making great headway in fostering growth and confidence for young women. If this sounds like something you or a professional women or girl you know would be interested in, you too can get involved. To find out more information on the YWCA of Olympia, please visit their website. To see some of the great work the leaders and girls are doing also check out their Facebook page and YouTube channel!

Friday, October 18, 2013

A Place to Grow

The entrance sign to the GRuB Garden!
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS

Tucked away to the west of Washington State's bustling capitol, Olympia, lies three peaceful acres of property unlike any other. A quick drive past might showcase a group of people under a canopy with small baskets of food, small but colorfully painted sheds, and loads upon loads of vegetation. Upon second glance you may spot a group of scurrying, dirt-covered teenagers. Teenagers?! In this quiet neighborhood? This nice garden? That can't be a good sign. But here, at GRuB (which stands for Garden-Raised Bounty), the scurrying teenagers are far from up to no good. Instead, they are more likely running around installing hoses, fertilizing plants, picking fresh vegetables, or training other young gardeners how to properly maintain their tomatoes. And they do this all for the betterment of their community.   

A view of the garden where student volunteers were working.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Breaking the stereotype
"There's all these stereotypes that teenagers are just glued to their cell phones and their laptops and that's all they care about. And it's just so interesting because here you get to see such a different side of that" explains Mallorie, GRuB's Americorps student leader, and a 4 year veteran of the garden. Mallorie and many other local students just like her, come to GRuB to spend time outdoors, learn how to garden, and to help local Olympians practice affordable cooking and eating. A senior at Olympia High School, Dayquan, explains of his involvement with GRuB, "I think that growing up on assistance, and getting free food at school definitely urged me to help with this program because they do a lot with getting food out there to the market stands and to the food bank. I'm giving back to my community. Everyone else thinks I'm just skating and doing other stuff but I'm skating and getting food justice incorporated in Olympia."

The Kitchen Garden Project area
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
A community institution
The GRuB garden is a celebrated staple in the Olympia community. They cultivate food on about .85 acres year-round for the community, but this is just the beginning. The garden houses a student and youth program that helps provide a safe, educational and fun place for young students to exert their creative energy. "I love GRuB because it's shown me how to talk in public and put my thoughts out there in a way that's not 'in your face' but is also not able to be squashed" shares Connor, another Olympia High School student who has both worked and volunteered with GRuB.

Some of the artwork found around the garden.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
More than just a garden
In addition, GRuB is best known in the community for their Kitchen Garden Project. Through this project, community members can grow their own food either on GRuB property or in their own backyards. Either way, GRuB staff and volunteers work diligently to properly train locals how to grow, maintain, and even cook their own food. The goal is to provide Olympia with the keys to healthy and self-sufficient food habits. The crew doesn't just train individuals how to garden, but they build long-standing relationships, making visits often to assure families and their gardens are doing well. Yes, from an outside view, GRuB may look like just a neighborhood garden, but once you step inside it immediately becomes clear that it is a living, breathing place to grow.   

For more information on this great organization please visit their website. And to see more photos from our visit check out our Facebook photo album!