This summer the inaugural class of U.S. Bank interns in Denver exchanged their typical business casual dress day at the office for jeans, volunteer T-shirts and the Colorado outdoors.
They headed south to Lake Lehow near Waterton Canyon to volunteer with a group of youth who participate in afterschool and year-round activities offered by Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK), a nonprofit organization which recently received a $5,000 Community Possible grant from U.S. Bank.
Founded in Montbello, an urban neighborhood located in northeast Denver, ELK provides programming, mentoring and other services to youth 5-25 who have been under-encouraged in science-related careers and who live in the Denver, Aurora and Adams public school districts.
Kim Weiss, associate director for ELK, has been with the organization for 13 years and has seen how the programs have made a positive impact on the students over the years. “It’s heartwarming to watch the students’ reactions when we explain that they belong in the outdoors just as much as anyone else,” she says. “They never heard that before, and so we get the privilege to share all new experiences with them, like showing them how bugs in the water give us clues into the overall health of the area and how the snow in the mountains gets turned into our drinking water.”
The U.S. Bank interns met with students from ELK’s Denver Youth Naturally (DYN) program that offers children ongoing opportunities to participate in fishing, hiking, water quality testing, habitat improvement and overnight camping activities. Students learned basic fishing skills such as adding bait to the hook, casting and reeling the fish line, gathering worms from the moist ground, making dough balls for bait, and releasing the fish back in the water. Even some of the interns learned a new skill or two, and almost all of them caught their own fish.
Lydia, a second-generation Ethiopian-American and former ELK student, caught her first fish – a Bass – at this lake. She explains it’s one of the reasons she has decided to stay on as an urban ranger after her experience as a student as well as her internship as a social media coordinator.
“What really hooked me in (pun intended, of course) was how much I learned just by playing and being outdoors. I remember learning about how owls have two stomachs – one for the food and one for fur and bones from animals they capture. I now get to teach kids these types of facts and love watching their faces as they learn.”
Story by Dana Stone of U.S. Bank.