Summer of Service program in Belen begins this week; students needed

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The Belen Summer of Service Program is searching for students who want to be empowered by hands-on science experience revolving around environmental and social issues in Valencia County.

Interested participants can sign up for the program from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday, June 4, and Tuesday, June 5, with parental consent at the Sen. Willie M. Chavez State Park in Belen.

About 25 spots are available for students from sixth through ninth grade, said Cara Lynch, Earth Force senior program manager.

The program, running from June 4 to July 13, is scheduled from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Friday, with weekly field trips, a University of New Mexico's biology lab tour, presentations from scientists, civic engagement and daily lunches.

SOS will take place at three sites — Central Elementary School, Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area and Sen. Willie M. Chavez State Park.

SOS begins by educating students about the history of ongoing ecological issues in their community, which they then choose from to aim to solve. This summer, students will focus on issues surrounding the bosque's food and watershed.

Students are also taught college preparedness and leadership skills by exposing them to opportunities available upon high school graduation.

Participation in the program provides young individuals with empowerment, Lynch said.

"They feel like they're a part of the solution to issues their communities face," Lynch said. "One students said something like, 'Kids have a voice and they can take action in their community.'"

In the past, students built garden boxes for Belen Consolidated Schools and El Corazon de Belen Garden Park, designed and painted a mural for the community garden park, planted native tree species at Sen. Willie M. Chavez State Park, generated an educational pamphlet about native species for Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area and enhanced a butterfly house at Henry T. Jaramillo Community School.

Belen's program is a success story considering the program's federal funding was cut one year after it began in 2010, but local donations were able to sustain the program, Lynch said.

This year, SOS has expanded to include a sister program in Bernalillo County.

Earth Force, who runs civic-action programs, such as SOS, encourages young individuals to improve their communities and environment by learning about local issues and engaging in community problem-solving while giving back to their communities and connecting with mentors, Lynch said.

Applications for the program can be downloaded at www.earthforce.org/SOS.

Full and partial need based scholarships are available for those who can't afford the $75 program fee.

For information about SOS, contact Sierra Netz at 620-5112, or email sierranetz@gmail.com, or Lorinda Lynch at 864-9670.


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.