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Opening New Worlds Through Nature & Friendship

On a November evening at Holyoke High School Dean Campus, the hallways are empty, but the large training kitchen is humming.

Students and their culinary arts teacher, Steve Kantrowitz, are busy preparing butternut squash empanadas, charred beet salsa, and apple buckle for a farm-to-table dinner for the community.

Many of these students are part of a new after-school program called EAGLE Club (Earth Advocates: Green Leaders for the Environment) created by Eagle Eye Institute in partnership with Kestrel, to connect Holyoke’s urban youth with the natural world. On this night, they gathered with teachers, administrators, and the nonprofits’ supporters around a locally sourced meal to raise awareness of the power of this program.

This club of 8 to 10 students—from 9th through 12th grade—meets after school twice a month and one Saturday each month to learn about environmental careers, stewarding the land, and how to feel comfortable out in nature. Last semester, a Holyoke resident shared her career as a municipal park and landscape architect, inviting students to “redesign” their school’s grounds to better meet the needs of their community.

“[In EAGLE Club] we make new friends and go outdoors to do hands-on activities. I like going outside and being away from technology. Being alone, you breathe in the air and feel complete.” – Ariadnna, freshman at Holyoke High Dean Campus

With U.S. Fish & Wildlife staff, club members wielded drills and hammers to construct bluebird nest boxes and barn swallow structures to be installed at the Silvio Conte National Wildlife Refuge in Hadley. And in February, the Club visited Eagle Eye Institute’s forest in Peru, MA, to strap on their first sets of snowshoes and explore with a wildlife tracking naturalist.

All of this is having an impact. At the dinner, four students spontaneously volunteered to share their thoughts with the audience. They each spoke of how in the short time they had been part of Eagle Club, the experience had already made them feel more confident as people, and more interested in being outdoors. It’s an important step as we nurture a love of the land in our young people.

Below, listen to the students share their stories, and learn more about our partnership and the Farm to Table dinner last fall.


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