Stewardship Across the Spectrum: A Q&A with Aspiring Youth Staff Lead Faye Lafond on Neurodiversity and Ecology

The Greenway is thrilled to begin in-person partnerships with organizations that help youth in our communities reconnect to the outdoors. This summer, Aspiring Youth campers got back on the land, handling invasive species in places like Seattle, Lake Sammamish, and Gold Creek Pond after a pause in 2020 due to the pandemic. As a non-profit organization that provides neurodiverse youth social group skills in a summer camp setting, Aspiring Youth hopes to infuse their work with environmental stewardship by partnering with the Greenway. Their summer camp program has worked with us for three summers in the past, and this year we have exciting plans for habitat restoration and opportunities to teach campers about our salmon recovery efforts.

Young girl in yellow sweater shows us some of the buttercup she is working on removing from along the trail at Confluence Park.
Photo credit: Swan Phongwarinr

This past summer, over 30 Aspiring Youth campers have taken part in eight volunteer events at five different restoration sites and have worked on the removal of invasive plant species such as blackberry, thistles, and ivy. After just a few events, some returning campers have become more than familiar with invasive plant knowledge.  

This program allows the Greenway to connect young people in Washington to the ecologically important landscapes of the Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area. Aspiring Youth Staff Lead, Faye Lafond, spoke with us to discuss how vital these connections are for Washington’s habitats and the young stewards who tend them. 

Q: Why does Aspiring Youth choose to work with the Greenway?  

Teen holds up invasive species he just removed.
Photo credit: Swan Phongwarinr

A: The partnership has always been super successful as there is always an ease with communication and working together. Working with the Greenway gives our campers a project where they can see the direct outcomes of their work and they take pride in that. Their work in the community matters.  

Q: What do they enjoy about volunteering with our organization? 

A: Giving them outside time with physical work is important and really calming for a lot of them. It’s a change of pace, and many mention how much they like to just be outside. They feel good working outside and working with their hands. A lot of the campers spend time with technology and gravitate towards inside. They have this unique opportunity to not do that and to be in nature and the fresh air is a good change of pace. 

Q: What kind of impact does the Greenway’s partnership with Aspiring Youth have on the kids? 

A: This offers the campers the chance to collaborate with their peers towards a common goal that the Greenway offers. We have seen many of the campers find their own ways of problem solving that involve other campers, which is awesome to see. They get to listen to feedback from new adults and find their independence and ownership towards projects.  

Q: How does the partnership support the campers’ needs to ensure everyone can participate? 

A: The Greenway does a great job of always being flexible with the different needs and certain aspects of our time that we can’t always control. The Greenway gives us accessible options on different spectrums, so everyone feels involved and always makes it fun working with multiple activities.