Two Young Men Building Natural Connections: Carlos and Gustavo's Story

Written by Urban Ecology Center
    Wednesday, 11 December 2013
Two Young Men Building Natural Connections: Carlos and Gustavo's Story

If you visit the Menomonee Valley branch at the Urban Ecology Center on a Tuesday or Thursday, you’ll be enthusiastically greeted by either Carlos Vazquez or Gustavo Mayorga at the reception desk. These two 16 year-olds know just about as much about the Urban Ecology Center as any of our staff, but you might be surprised to find out that they are volunteer interns from Carmen High School of Science and Technology. In fact, when you see them at the Center, they’re actually in school!

Carlos and Gustavo are both juniors, and in their sophomore year, they were selected for the school’s internship program. Now they spend one day a week volunteering at a local business or organization with the goal of learning professional skills—and the Urban Ecology Center was lucky enough to be their placement! While these two are invaluable resources to us, their involvement at the Urban Ecology Center has also enabled them to experience new opportunities and has impacted the way they think about the future.

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In addition to masterfully navigating the reception desk, Carlos and Gustavo assist with stewardship activities, help teach students in our Neighborhood Environmental Education Program, and each are working on their own research projects (on soil quality and compost bins, respectively) to present to the Center and their school. Carlos and Gustavo even traveled with Center staff to Camp Snowball (a Systems Thinking conference) in Arizona in 2012, shortly before beginning their internship with us. The experiences they have had through their involvement at the Center are informing the way they think about their community and their futures. Carlos says that the concepts he learned at Camp Snowball continue to make him think critically about the way he approaches learning, and both he and Gustavo helped start a Green Club at their school based on what they had experienced at Camp Snowball.

And being part of the team at the Menomonee Valley branch for the past year and a half is something that both guys say is shaping the way they think about themselves and their communities. When asked about how connected he feels to the community and environment, Carlos said that before the volunteering experience, on a scale of 1 to 10 “I was a 2. Now I would say I’m about a 7.” Carlos attests that his involvement at the Center has impacted him greatly, as he’s much more involved now by volunteering, helping the community, and helping restore the Earth. In the future, Carlos thinks maybe he would like to be a politician or pursue a career in Marine Biology, and says, “My experiences at the Center have influenced me in what I want to do. I was never really much of a science person, but after being at the Center, I now like and really enjoy science. I would like to encourage people to volunteer more and help their communities and the environment. I think people don’t do that enough… I plan to use the Urban Ecology Center as an example and advocate more for people to be involved here.”

Gustavo says that the internship has helped him build professional skills. He says, “Coming here, since it’s an environmentally friendly organization, I think that’s helped me because it’s impacted my career interests. I want to be an Environmental Engineer. In my community, it’s affected us because whenever I see wrappers or trash I pick it up. After school I go around my neighborhood and pick up trash.”

Both Carlos and Gustavo have found their niche at the Urban Ecology Center—as Gustavo says, “The environment here, it feels like you’re home!” While the Center has certainly flourished with the continual support of Carlos and Gustavo, each have also gained valuable insight on their own passions and are planning futures that incorporate the professional skills and opportunities they’ve acquired from their time here.

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