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Celebrating a Successful Return to Youth Volunteer Vacations

Posted by Jessi Loerch at Nov 17, 2021 08:42 AM |

Thanks to a lot of careful planning and hard work, we had a safe and fun summer with teen volunteers — and we got a lot of work done, too! And we're already looking ahead to next year.

By Clarissa Allen, youth trail program manager 

How do you successfully run overnight trail work trips for teens during a global pandemic?! After noodling on this question for 12 months, WTA staff were thrilled to resume the youth volunteer vacation program for teens in summer 2021, after taking a break in 2020. Here’s how it went.

Safety first

By July 2021, we were fortunate to have dialed in our COVID safety protocols through more than a year of implementation on day work parties. Our COVID safety record is one of the biggest highlights of the summer — to our knowledge, there were ZERO confirmed COVID cases or transmissions connected to youth volunteer vacation trips this summer! 

A group of nine teens, all wearing face coverings, pose for a photo in front of a wooden fence with Mount Rainier in the background on a sunny day.
We were extremely excited to welcome back teens for a successful youth volunteer vacation season. WTA staff photo.

WTA also continued to improve our food safety systems and menu to be increasingly inclusive of volunteers with food allergies and other dietary preferences. One teen volunteer on the Silver Falls trip said “I was super impressed by (and grateful for) how prepared my crew leaders and WTA was in regards to my food intolerances. I had a whole bin dedicated to gluten-free items including plates, bowls, a pot, a pan, a cup and utensils which was awesome and made me feel really safe and welcome!” 

Have fun

I am so proud of the WTA crew leaders who stepped up this season to facilitate safe, welcoming and fun experiences for 69 teen volunteers. Here are what a few teens had to say about their experience this summer:

  • “The environment of the conversations and crew leaders was so welcoming. I loved the connections everyone made off the bat. The cards, meditation circles and lighthearted environment made the trip awesome.”
    — teen volunteer on a Middle Fork Snoqualmie trip 
  • “Playing group games helped everyone feel included and helped us bond as a group.”
    — teen volunteer on a Cultus Creek trip
  • What did you see or experience on this trip that made you feel welcome and included? “Diversity of identity, experiences and ideas. Open and honest conversations. Games and activities which included the whole group.”
    — teen volunteer on a Twin Sisters Lake trip
  • “I loved that I was able to be outside, working with amazing fellow volunteers and crew, and giving back to nature and the community. I love this program, the leaders were super nice, super inclusive and made everybody feel so welcome! Every day was exhausting but filled with so much fun and adventure.”
    — teen volunteer on a Silver Falls trip

Teens prep a meal together in a backcountry kitchen.
Enjoying meals together is part of the joy of a youth volunteer vacation, and we're proud to be able to offer foods that meet our volunteers' needs. Photo by Cole Hanych.

One parent also shared their perspective on the positive impact a WTA trip had in their son’s life: “(He) had a fantastic time despite the mosquito and heat and says that he wants to recommend the WTA youth work trips to all his friends. After a year of isolated and somewhat depressing COVID schooling at home, we are excited that he got to get out with real people doing some real work.” 

One way that WTA strives to facilitate welcoming and inclusive youth crew experiences is by building diverse, multi-cultural crews led by WTA staff with a variety of identities and background/experiences. I’m grateful to the families who shared optional demographic information with us in their applications this year, supporting WTA in understanding who is participating in our programs and which communities are currently under-represented. 

I’m pleased to share that the youth volunteer vacation program continued to diversify across race/ethnicity and gender identity of teen volunteers in 2021. It’s our goal to continue increasing the diversity of our program participants so that teens of all identities have access to meaningful, multi-cultural outdoor opportunities. We were also proud to host our second annual LGBTQ+ youth crew at Mount Rainier National Park and look forward to increasing our shared-identity trip offerings in 2022. From stretch circle dance parties, to creative cooking, to evening music jams, to reading quietly by the river … we had so much fun this summer! 

A groups of youth volunteers and leaders, wearing hard hats, smiles at the camera from behind stretch of fresh dirt surrounded by ferns.
Youth crews help get so much work done around the state, including this trip at Deception Pass. Photo by WTA staff.

Get some work done

Teens completed 2,600 hours of volunteer service across the state this summer. They installed hand railings at Silver Falls, built a puncheon on the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Trail and built a turnpike at Deception Pass State Park. They also did lots of annual maintenance (repairing trail tread, brushing the trail corridor and installing drainage features) on trails managed by the U.S. Forest Service, Washington State Parks and the National Park Service. It was amazing to see the sheer volume of work done, as described by one teen on the Silver Falls trip. 

“We did so much! We installed a lot of railings and posts and cleared up one of the interpretive trails — and this was only the work part. We also learnt how to handle different tools and how to do different jobs, while working together in a safe environment. We successfully fed each other and enjoyed a very inclusive, welcoming and fun campsite for everyone.” 

A teen volunteer uses a hammer while other volunteers watch. Everyone is wearing green hard hats and face coverings.
Teens got a lot of work done on trail this summer! Photo by Cole Hanych.

Looking forward to 2022

Summer 2022 is going to look very similar to 2021 for the youth volunteer vacation program. Due to the continuing impacts of the pandemic, we’re planning to run a similar number of trips and continue all COVID protocols (including reduced crew sizes). We will also be implementing the following changes:

  • Youth volunteer vacations will be 8 days long, include a “day-off” in the middle, and run Saturday-Saturday.
  • Updated menu! We’re working hard this winter to update the menu to be predominantly vegetarian and inclusive of the most common food allergies. Our hope is that by creating a more allergen-friendly menu, we’ll be able to accommodate many common dietary needs with our standard menu and promote stronger belonging within the crew community at meal times. There will still be meat options available for lunch sandwiches and some breakfasts.
  • Beginning Dec. 2, 2021, all WTA volunteers are required to be fully vaccinated to participate in our work parties. This will include teen volunteers on youth volunteer vacations. 
  • In 2021, we received approximately 100 more applications than spots available during the priority application period. To help create more opportunities for teens to volunteer during the summer, we’ll be advertising a day work party series alongside the youth volunteer vacations so that there are more total opportunities for teens to get outside on trail with WTA this summer. 

Ready to apply for summer 2022 trips? The priority application period will open on April 1, 2022. For more information and how to apply, check out our website at wta.org/teens.

Teens stand around a picnic table in the dark, lit by a lantern. Teens are playing stringed instruments, and a few more instruments sit on the table. Everyone is wearing face coverings.
Come join us next year for a fun trip with other teens, and help out trails at the same time. Photo by Sarah Williams.

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