Mentors Work 1-on-1 with Youth to Save Environment

by Whitney Brown
       At FIRST GLANCE, the challenges of an under-prepared generation of teenagers and a fragile environment may seem unrelated. But the EnvironMentors Project addresses both these needs together, in a way that fosters learning and a fundamental change in attitudes towards academics and career aspirations.
       We strive to achieve these goals through the mentoring process. Each mentor helps his or her student design, implement, and complete an environmentally focused research project. As the mentors and students work, learn, and create together, the students develop greater academic discipline as they conduct the research and investigation needed to complete their projects.
       A generous grant from the United States Environmental Protection Agency allowed the EnvironMentors Project to expand into Baltimore in 1998.
       During the inaugural year, students from Northern, Patterson, and Western High Schools were matched with environmental scientists, engineers, and researchers. For several months, the professionals worked with them on environment-oriented research and community action projects.
       Highlights from the Baltimore EnvironMentors Project’s first year include:

       The success of the first year was borne out by the large turnout at the First Annual Baltimore EnvironMentors Fair, held on May 13. Co-hosted by the University of Maryland Environmental Health Education Center, this celebratory event was featured on WJZ-TV. A host of distinguished speakers offered congratulatory words of advice.
       Arthur W. Ray, the Maryland Deputy Secretary of the Environment and William Brown, Sr., Deputy Director of the United States Army Corps of Engineers, spoke of the need for our young participants to not only become stewards of their community, but also of the world. Mr. Brown’s comments were especially meaningful to our students; he grew up in Turner’s Station and graduated from Baltimore City College High School.

Building Bridges in Pigtown

       The Baltimore EnvironMentors Project, in conjunction with the Environmental Health Education Center, sponsored a community environmental justice internship program this summer. The program focused on environmental health and justice issues in the Pigtown community. The five interns came from Patterson, Northern, Southwestern, and Lake Clifton high schools. One of them, Sandra Pumphrey, lives in Pigtown and volunteers at the neighborhood soup kitchen.
       The interns teamed with community-based groups (Washington Village Pigtown Neighborhood Planning Council, Paul’s Place, and Open Gates) to investigate and develop strategies to address environmental health problems in Pigtown.
       Working with Joanna Gaitens, a community public health nursing student from Hopkins, the interns developed an 18-question environmental health assessment survey.
       During the midst of the July heat wave, they went door-to-door and interviewed more than 50 Pigtown residents.
       The interns presented the survey results at the Southwest Community Council on September 28. According to the results of the survey and the students’ research:
       ° There is an average of 4-5 vacant homes per block.
       ° The average annual household income in Pigtown is $18,758 versus the national average of $26,291.
       ° The most serious environmental problems are trash, air pollution from vehicles, air pollution from factories and industries, rats and roaches, and vacant houses.
       The students and residents worked together to identify solutions to these environmental problems. These solutions include community clean-up days, enforcement of existing trash laws, more dumpsters and trashcans, and greater home ownership.

Next Steps

       Tony Jordan, the Student Coordinator of the program, has been recruiting students and mentors for this second program year. Last year, dedicated volunteers allowed us to provide mentors for 26 students. This year, the Baltimore EnvironMentors Project is expanding. Students from Southwestern, as well as students from Western, Northern, and Patterson, will participate in the program.
       Response from the students has been overwhelming. Currently, 80 students have applied for mentors from the Baltimore EnvironMentors Project. In order to maintain a high level of service to the students, many more volunteers are needed, and new partnerships must be created. The Project especially needs more male mentors.
       For information, call (410) 706-1924 e-mail me at wbrown@environmentors.org. Please visit our website at www.environmentors.org.
Ms. Brown is program director of the EnvironMentors Project in Baltimore. She provided this article at the request of the Chronicle.

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This story was published on November 3, 1999.