Elizabeth Youth Participate In Groundwork Summit In New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS, La.— This past week, an assortment of 80 youth, Groundwork Executive Directors, National Park Service staff, and youth Green Team leaders voyaged to New Orleans, Louisiana, to tour the city, explore nature, work a service project, and to share experiences in their hometowns as the Groundwork program continues to grow across the country.

Organized by Groundwork USA, the weekend brought youth and supervisors from New England, the Midwest, the West, Appalachia, the New York metropolitan area, and Washington, D.C. to the site of one of the worst weather disasters to hit the USA. Groundwork USA was initiated by a grant from the National Park Service Rivers and Trails Assistance program, to address challenges in urban and rural communities, focusing on youth, communities, with the foundation of improvements relating to, but not limited to, the physical environment.


Michael Villarraga and George Travinsky, students from the Hamilton Academy of Elizabeth High School, exhibited a tireless presence throughout the weekend, accompanied by their Green Team leader, Dave Wiener, and Groundwork Elizabeth Executive Director Jonathan Phillips. After touring Cane Bayou and Lake Pontchatrain by canoe, the group traveled directly into New Orleans, to study the ongoing efforts to relieve the devastation brought to the area in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina, and to see the improvements that the Groundwork program has made to the city.

On Sunday, the group participated with local and EPA volunteers in a community service landscaping project on the grounds at Andrew Wilson Elementary school, located in the Broadmoor section of New Orleans.  Flooding from Hurricane Katrina had devastated the school, but it is now being readied for a mid-winter opening after more than four years of restoration.

Dave Wiener, the Green Team Youth leader from Elizabeth, said, “the program gave our youth the opportunity to participate in an area of great need, expanding their outlook in the role of community service. They experienced things they had never done before, and turned around and helped others.  The lessons learned will live with them forever”.

Bob Varady, who serves as the Groundwork Elizabeth Board President supports Groundwork Youth summits. “We work very hard here in Elizabeth to improve the physical and social landscape”, said Varady, “ and these visits allow us to share our experiences with other Groundwork programs and to learn from them as well”.

After the youth summit, Groundwork Trusts met at the New Orleans Convention Center for the EPA National Brownfield’s Conference of 2009.  Many of the goals for the Groundwork program involve working in and improving Brownfield properties, land that was formerly used for industry, an instrumental goal for the conference’s EPA sponsor.

Lisa Jackson, the administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency explains, “The National Brownfields Conference is an opportunity for innovation and collaboration on some of our nation’s greatest environmental and economic challenges.”

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Canoeing along the Cane Bayou, adjacent to Lake Pontchatrain, north of New Orleans:  From left to right, Michael Villarraga, and George Travinsky, Green Team members from Groundwork Elizabeth.

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From left to right, Michael Villarraga, George Travinsky, local New Orleans resident from Broadmoor Neighborhood group, Jonathan Phillips, Dave Wiener, take a break a Andrew Wilson Elementary School service project in downtown New Orleans Neighborhood.

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