By: Kelly Vera
Since I was just a kid, I have always been told two different things in relation to my career choices. 1) Make as much money as you can or 2) Do what makes you happy and you'll see that money is not happiness. So as I recently crossed the stage to receive my bachelor's degree, why did I feel even more confused than ever before if I knew that the field I wanted to be in was the one? I have interned with Hispanic Access Foundation at Great Swamp and Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge in the summer of 2017 and felt that this was the career path meant for me; conservation and community outreach to get people of color on the same wavelength as me. I came back for a second year, motivated to show the world what I see and figuring out ways to do things differently. But as I transition from college into the real world, I question my ability to be able to make a difference and engage the world. If I didn't choose to return with Hispanic Access Foundation, I would have never been reminded of the potential I withhold to make the difference. With the support and love from the team, I know that there are helping hands in works of framing Latino Conservation. I feel that we ARE the difference.
This year is a little different, as we are not only working for Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, but also Wallkill River and Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge. A lot of commotion has been going on throughout the refuges varying from invasive plant work like water chestnut removal to help build bridges (literally) at trails and restoring wildlife and plants with new mulch and pollinators. As always, there is always something to do to help ensure the protection of these lands, but there is also maintenance goals on top of helping with general improvements. Interns from HAF, Groundwork Elizabeth and the Student Conservancy Agency work daily to help improve all of the refuges by working with trail maintenance, invasive work, purple martin gourds, volunteer events and etc. It has already been a little over a month since our journey has begun and we already feel like family, with important goals to reach together. This feels like home.