Image: Delaware River Fellows raise environmental awareness locally

Jon'avin Freeman (L) and Amira Parker (R).

The Delaware River Fellows Program gives young adults the opportunity to get valuable, first-hand experience in habitat conservation and environmental education in the Delaware Watershed. This summer, 30 Fellows are working on individual capstone projects focused on environmental issues and engaging local communities. They gain knowledge of conservation and share their passion with others, encouraging the enjoyment, use, and care of the natural areas in the watershed.

Fellows are paid to work on their projects at the 23 environmental education centers in PA, NJ and DE that comprise the Alliance for Watershed Education (AWE).  AWE seeks to intentionally engage diverse communities, especially those who have been historically left out of conversations about protecting our shared environment. It promotes equitable access to its Centers and fostering socially responsible practices that will result in a healthier natural environment.  

Jahya Gale-Cottries, a Fellow at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge understands the importance of building community in the neighborhood around the Refuge:  “Forming a connection over a common interest like nature can really strengthen and bond a community.” By encouraging local residents to help clean litter from the waterways, Jahya will teach them about the environmental harm caused by illegal dumping.

Robin Irizarry, Fellowship Coordinator for the Alliance for Watershed Education (AWE), is excited to work with a full cohort of Fellows this year: “Last year the Fellowship program was limited due to the pandemic. While we can’t say things are back to normal, we are incredibly grateful for a cohort of 30 Fellows working at all of the AWE environmental education centers this summer. These young people are eager to learn all about restoring and protecting their local waterways and to share that knowledge with their communities.”

The Fellowship Program, now in its fifth year, builds on a growing national momentum for more diversity and equity in environmental leadership and enjoyment of the outdoors. Most of the AWE centers are in urban areas and many of the Fellows come from nearby BIPOC communities that have been historically underrepresented at the centers and in the broader environmental movement.The Fellows gain invaluable conservation and environmental experience that may not otherwise have been available to them. 

The 2021 Fellows are passionate about the environment and are working hard to connect neighborhoods and groups of people with nature across the Watershed.  

Meet Our Local Fellows: Philadelphia

  • Amira Parker and Jon'avin Freeman (in attached photo), Fellows at the Fairmount Water Works, are developing an educational activity book for high school students on watersheds and river health. The activity book will be offered in English and Spanish and will be used as a tool to engage high school students in a local Hispanic high school community.
  • Using 21st century tools, Sandy Phuong and Brandon Chaingam, Fellows at the Discovery Center, hope to attract and engage more visitors to the Center. Sandy is expanding the Center’s social media platforms to attract more young people in the Strawberry Mansion community, while Brandon is developing a series of QR codes equipped signs to help visitors identify and learn about native plants in the garden using their cell phones.
  • Andrew “Drew” Atkerson, this year’s Senior Fellow  is helping pilot a new mentorship component of the Fellowship Program to connect past and current Fellows with environmental professionals who share similar life experiences, cultural and racial identities, interests, and professional goals.   
  • Brooklyn Clayton, Fellow at Bartram’s Garden, is creating themed “Garden Games” to bring together community members and teach them about the Schuylkill River through a series of fun and educational activities, including biking and kayaking competitions.
  • To educate the local community about the impacts of illegal dumping in the waterways, John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge Fellow Jahya Gale-Cottries is engaging other AWE Fellows and the community to help remove tires from the Darby Creek and Refuge through her Tire Round Up Program. She hopes that the education and engagement will result in less illegal dumping and more appreciation and care for local waterways.
  • Environmental racism and water justice are the focus of Independence Seaport Museum fellows Tamiria Elliott and Molly Flanagan, who are creating lesson plans for the Museum’s River Ambassadors (high school students who lead interactive public programs at the Museum). The lesson plans will enhance the Ambassadors’ knowledge and provide a framework for public programs at the Museum. The Fellows have also drafted a land acknowledgement for the Ambassadors to use in helping the public recognize and honor the indigenous Lenni Lenape people who  have inhabited and protected the area since long before European settlers arrived in the United States.
  • Vary J. Soth, Fellow at Cobbs Creek Community Environmental Education Center, is engaging local teens to help measure the health of the water in Cobbs Creek and working to recruit local community members to become part of a team that will monitor environmental issues in the area.
  • Learning how to forage local edible plants is also a lesson in how pollution harms our environment. MyKyah Vessels, Fellow at the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership at Tacony Creek Park, is teaching visitors how to identify plants and safely forage in Tacony Creek Park, as some plants are unsafe to eat because of pollutants carried by stormwater runoff.
  • Jamel Shockley, Fellow at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, is helping to revitalize the Center’s gardens by removing weeds and invasive plants and repopulating with native plants. The hope is to create an engaging dialogue around the impacts of invasive plants and the benefits of switching to a native plant palette.
  • Julianna Roseo, Fellow at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, is using “pedal and paddle” events to highlight the environmental dangers and impacts of plastic pollution and to encourage people to cut back on single-use plastics.

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