Youth Forward Scholarship Winter 2016 – Passion for the Nature

Name: Amy Tong
From: Union City, CA
Grade: 12
School: James Logan High School
Votes: 0

As a kid, the frequent family trips to Yosemite National Park greatly helped develop my appreciation for the environment. Aside from how unique and beautiful I found Yosemite to be, what really intrigued me when I first visited Yosemite were all the burnt trees I saw outside the car window. My curiosity was clarified by a parker ranger, knowing that forest fires could actually be beneficial to the forest
by clearing up some of the debris on the forest floor to keep ecosystem healthy. Since then I have always had this drive to delicate my time to our environment. It wasn’t until the beginning of my freshman year that I found my chance to further express my passion for the nature by volunteering as a rail-rescue ranger at Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center where I felt little things mattered the most.

For the past three years, on one of the weekends every one or two months if weather allowed, I have joined in a group of volunteers at their different ages pulling the invasive plants along the shoreline for 3 to 4 hours. We identified the weeds that we wanted to remove, especially those invasive plants like ice plant, that were choking out the native plants, pushing the native plants out of their habitats, competing with several threatened or endangered plant species for nutrients, water, light and space, and posing a serious ecological problem by forming vast monospecific zones, lowering biodiversity.

I have a feeling that my passion for the nature was coded into my DNA that I decided to volunteer as a junior naturalist at the summer
camps during my sophomore year at Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center. Being a junior naturalist, I supervised a group of 15 kids
from elementary to middle school ages, setting up the classroom, assisting them whenever they needed me, and especially educating them about the nature on the field trips. Although field-trip days were very tiring due to some kids being very curious, that minor setback didn’t stop me from smiling on my face when I heard the words: “I have uprooted this black mustard.” It was these words that made me realize that even the smallest of gestures could be helpful. I hoped to educate more kids from their young ages about our environment, and make them realize that pulling weeds wasn’t as insignificant as it seemed to be.

I have dedicated my time to the environment and community since then. From freshman to junior year I have completed about 180 hours of volunteer work such as serving food at the Church, shelving books and cleaning desks at the libraries, mentoring my fellow students at school and fundraising for the America Cancer Society. I also spent many additional hours on other activities like Doc Quack’s wildlife program at East Bay Regional Park District. It was due to my passion for the nature and desire to make a
difference that led me to contribute my past summer in my senior year for 209 hours to an ongoing research project at School of Earth,
Energy, and Environmental Science at Stanford.

Weeding experience at Hayward Shoreline has taught me an expected lesson that an act doesn’t have to be amazing to be significant. Despite pulling weeds seems trivial, the importance is that even one more weed removed can save hundreds of native plants and help preserve the complexly fragile ecosystem because of the negative weed characteristics of abundant seed production and adaptation for spreading. As in recycling a bottle of coke, seemingly insignificant, but collectively, it makes a big difference for the economy and environment because of energy conservation and decreased plastic pollution. In today’s world, sometimes we can get so busy
with life that we forget about the small things. The things we think won’t matter in the long run, or the things that we subconsciously
put at a lower priority than others such as picking up a piece of trash, holding the door for someone, and giving an encouraging word.
Those small seemingly insignificant things in life can actually matter so much for our communities like pulling weeds to natural

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