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Landscaping with drought-tolerent plants at the health clinic.

by Kari Weber

Giving and gaining are symbiotic components of community involvement. To support one of six core areas, students in the Orfalea Foundation’s REACH program give their time and gain knowledge, understanding and experience.

The students of REACH cohort 2013 (High School Juniors) participated in two unique service opportunities recently. Locally, the students visited the Santa Ynez Chumash Environmental Office (SYCEO), located on the Chumash Indian Reservation.   The students were greeted by Marianna Cruz, who expertly planned the service component of the visit, as well as an introduction to the varied programs offered by SYCEO and a brief history of the native people.  

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Lending a hand on the Chumash Reservation.

Then it was time to get to work.  Students completed a river survey, removed non-native plants, and replaced them with drought-resistant plants surrounding the clinic and community buildings.   On a tour of the grounds, students viewed places important to the Chumash community, including the native plant garden and the ceremonial sweat lodge, and later had a chance to enjoy lunch on the Elder’s beautiful lawn.

SYCEO is a leader in environmental practices; the office runs primarily on solar power, they have transitioned away from gas-powered ground maintenance machines, and are actively composting office waste. In addition, the SYCEO has contributed to the Chumash Casino being a leader in environmental stewardship, winning awards for their innovative practices of recycling water and treating bio-waste onsite.

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Recycling cooking oil into bio-diesel.

“It actually smells like fries!” Not the bio-waste, but used oil.   Students were impressed as they watched used oil from long-since-eaten French Fries and Chicken Tenders make its way through filters to become fuel for the casino’s vehicles.

Students left with a greater understanding of their community, and a glimpse into outstanding environmental practices in local business.  “I thought I knew about how to take care of the environment – and I do at home – but seeing what the Chumash are doing makes me want to do more,”  said Xochitl Lopez

Farther from home, the REACH students had a chance to volunteer in an urban setting.   Students served over 700 hot meals to San Francisco residents at GLIDE.   GLIDE is a community organization that offers services to people in need, including daily hot meals, with few barriers to service.   “GLIDE’s program is the only one in San Francisco to provide 3 nutritious meals a day, 364 days a year to the city’s poor, homeless and hungry.”  www.glide.org

The REACH team after serving over 700 meals to homeless people in San Francisco.

REACH students (and Program Managers) after serving over 700 meals to needy people in San Francisco.

The students entered the fast paced environment of a working kitchen and dove in, hair nets and all.   “It was surprising how many people came to the food service – all different types of people,” Juan Munoz noted.  Students had a chance to see how a large service operation works, and to interact with the guests.   Seeing how food can be in short supply for many people shed new light on the students’ respect for and relationship to food.   “I know how hard my mom and dad work to keep food on the table, and now I see what it can be like if they were injured or lost their job.”

Far more was gained in experience than was given in time while completing these two service opportunities.  Students gained a greater understanding of environmental practices and of ways to help people dealing with food insecurity.

Kari Weber is a Program Manager with the Orfalea Foundation REACH program.

About Transition to Adulthood

REACH is an experiential education program for motivated high school students from California’s Santa Barbara County that prepares them to take control of their future. REACH (which stands for Resilience, Education, Adventure, Community and Health) works to prepare students for lives of purposeful action, continuous learning, and the courageous pursuit of opportunity. READ MORE

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