Every year, VNPA sends 30 Minnesota high school students to Voyageurs National Park and out on the Mississippi River as part of the National Park Teen Ambassador Program. While participants spend time paddling, camping, fishing, hiking, doing service projects, and learning about conservation-related careers from National Park Service staff, they become environmental stewards for our public lands. We had a chance to sit down with one of our past ambassadors to catch up and find out what this program means to her.
Faizah, it is great to see you - what are you up to these days?
I'm actually fasting for Ramadan right now. I just graduated from high school and am looking for a summer job, I think I'll line something up soon. I actually have registration for St. Kate's later so I'll be heading there to sign up for classes. More generally, I've been trying to make camping more of a traditional thing since my experience with Teen Ambassadors.
What kind of job are you looking for?
Initially I wanted to do something outside, but I'm looking for more of a traditional summer job I think.
St. Kate's is a great school. Do you know what you want to study?
I'm not totally sure. I've spent a lot of time over the past few years trying to figure that out because I don't want to get there and spend a lot of extra effort and money figuring it out. I've had so many people in my life telling me, "You don't need to know right now," but there is still a part of me telling me "you need to know now." So we'll see. I think I want to do people things. It's a nursing school so that is an option.
Would you have considered yourself an "outdoorsy" person before your trip to Voyageurs?
Not really - I was in 3rd grade the first time I went camping so I had some experience on what it was, but through my middle school and even into my first few years of high school it wasn't something I thought about. But I think this trip sort of highlighted a part of me I had put in a box and forgotten about. Now it is something I'm grateful for and I wouldn't trade it for anything. When I think about all of the experiences I've been fortunate enough to have with people, this one sticks out because we have stayed in touch. I would say I still talk to about half of the people from that trip. Some people obviously disappear or are hard to track down but I think this experience has been great for a lot of us.
I remember the highlight, well not THE highlight but one really cool part happened at Voyageurs when they asked us what we wanted to do and I said I wanted to see the sunset from a sort of elevated spot. And you know how there are a bunch of little islands out in Voyageurs? Well, I named one after myself and one evening we went out late in the afternoon and I asked where we were going and they said we were going to my island to watch the sunset and when we got there we were like a little village of people and we watched the sunset. It was amazing.
Has your time in the Teen Ambassador Program changed you?
I think so. I love taking walks out in nature and around the parks here. It's not exactly like camping where you're surrounded by nature and everything is green but I would say I don't look at things the same way. I feel more in touch with nature here at home and if I see someone messing with a tree or littering I'm more prone to tell them to knock it off.
I also don't think a lot of people know Fort Snelling State Park is here and when I show them pictures they're in disbelief because when you're there, it feels so far out of the city. I think with the Voyageurs trip, I had no idea about the place and of course I looked up some photos and sort of said, well there's no way it will look like that, but then we went and what I experienced with my own eyes was even more incredible than those images.
What has the Teen Ambassador Program meant to you?
In a way I'm a different person than people expect me to be because I'm a girl and I'm Somali. It can be a little frustrating because I know that a lot of my friends were interested in going on this trip but just couldn't get past those barriers. I mean, I didn't know Voyageurs and I probably wouldn't have ever hear about it if I hadn't been in College Possible. I think more now about how to introduce more people to what I have experienced in an inclusive way and how to breach those barriers.
VNPA is currently working with partners like College Possible, AVID, and Wilderness Inquiry to recruit 30 Teen Ambassadors for summer 2017 programming. Read what other students have to say about the program, learn about program goals, and apply!