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Dodge Nature Center Provides Service Opportunities to GAP School YouthBuild AmeriCorps Students

Image of GAP students working on the roof of the coop
GAP students work on the roof of the coop

​For more than 20 years, GAP School has provided its’ students the opportunity to complete 300 community service hours in order to earn a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award that can be used to pay for secondary education and/or student loans. Not only does this benefit students by giving them an opportunity to earn money towards their higher education goals, but it also is a unique way to give back to the community in which they live and go to school.

Students ages 18 to 24 within GAP’s Alternative Senior High School and Adult Basic Education programs are eligible to enroll in our YouthBuild AmeriCorps program. This program provides a career pathway through alternative education, job training, and leadership development. While earning a high school diploma, participants acquire the skills and training that will position them for a successful career in healthcare or construction. This is also how they can work towards their 300 hours to earn the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award.

According to YouthBuild’s website, AmeriCorps is a national service program that engages more than 75,000 Americans each year in service opportunities that address unmet critical needs in education, environmental stewardship, healthy futures, veterans and military families, economic opportunity, disaster services, and other unmet community needs.

For the past few years, as an opportunity for students to complete their hours, GAP School has partnered with Dodge Nature Center in West St. Paul. Founded in 1967 by Olivia Irvine Dodge, the Thomas Irvine Dodge Nature Center boasts 460+ acres of nature preserve within the cities of West St. Paul, Mendota Heights, and Cottage Grove. Dodge Nature Center has a mission to provide exceptional experiences in nature through environmental education.

Over the years, GAP School students have made their way over to Dodge Nature Center to complete many different service projects as well as take part in lessons from their experienced staff. More recently, projects have taken place at Shepard Farm as well. Dodge Nature Center acquired Shepard Farm in 2013 from the Wilder Foundation and has developed it into a destination for agricultural and environmental education in Washington County.

Students in the Construction Pathway program at GAP School helped to fix up a house on Shepard Farm that their on-site interns will live in. Most recently, students have been helping to build a large turkey coop at the farm. As part of our partnership, GAP School highschoolers have also taken part in trainings at Dodge including maple syruping, beekeeping, tree identification, farm animal tours, and nature hikes.

One of the reasons we are so grateful for our partnership with Dodge so much is because it is rooted in nature. Many GAP School students are of the Karen people, who immigrated from Myanmar (formerly Burma). Their homeland was extremely rural, so moving to the urban Twin Cities area was quite an adjustment. The projects and lessons at Dodge Nature Center allow these students to reconnect with nature, which they really enjoy. Da Ra Pow, a student from Burma who has been working at Shepard Farm shared, “I like working on the roof of the coop and being outside.”

Image of GAP students working on the turkey coop at Dodge Nature Center
GAP students working on the turkey coop at Dodge Nature Center

Through YouthBuild AmeriCorps, GAP School is able to make a difference in our students’ lives by giving them the tools and credentials they need to achieve economic stability and improve potential for higher lifetime earnings. Our goal is to make education and employment training a possibility for young adults in our community who face significant barriers. YouthBuild AmeriCorps propels students toward higher education opportunities while at the same time learning valuable trades that can be used in legitimate careers after graduating.

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