Do you want to start with your name and position?
Nelson Curran, Community Programs Coordinator, Missouri Botanical Gardens.
What do you do in that job?
A variety of different things. Most of my work's project-based in the community working on community-driven green space initiatives and activities. And then I supervise and coordinate the Outdoor Youth Corps, which is our youth employment program.
How long has the Outdoor Youth Corps been going on?
In this form, it's been about 4 years, but 2014 was our first year. So, 6 years of teen employment.
And it's a summer program?
It'll be 9 weeks this year. It's been 8 weeks in the past. We added another one because we got some grant funding. It's about 160 hours over the whole 8 weeks, which breaks down to about 20 hours a week.
What kind of activities does the Youth Corps do?
Quite a few. We do a lot of beautification—we pick up garbage, we weed native plantings, and maintain beds and public spaces. We do education programs—we got the Boys and Girls club, so working with youth doing education stuff. And then ecological restoration is definitely one of our backbone projects—invasive species removal is usually what we're doing. And then this trail building is a new thing for us, which is really cool. And then we have other projects. We do some data collection, some other stuff; [it] kind of depends on who our project partners are. Like a lot of how you all work is, we work with project partners, as well, so it's kind of, "What's the need? Here's our skills, here's our tools," so that allows us to get a variety of projects each season. But I'd say ecological restoration is definitely the main things that we do.
It seems like Outdoor Youth Corps would be a good transition into AmeriCorps St. Louis.
Yeah! I'm trying not to overdo it, but I'm definitely telling this crew, "If you like this kind of stuff, this could be a really good option going forward." We try to try out a lot of stuff. And we also tailor—once I know what the crew's into, I try the best I can—if there's any wiggle room in the season, to put the crew members in front of what they're interested in. If we have an opportunity to get on a project that might be of interest to someone on the crew, I do everything I can to make it happen if we can fit in it. Sometimes it doesn't work out.
So, you got involved in this O'Fallon project through MDC [Missouri Department of Conservation]?
Yep. They had the grant going on and we just decided, "Hey, they probably got some really cool projects they're working on. That'd be a great home base for us." And then Josh and Aaron Shank and everyone at MDC have been so supportive. It's really worked out well. And then we have a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club, as well, and that was probably as important of a driver as being in that park. There are Boys and Girls Clubs all over the city; that one's located in a really busy rec center, there's tons of kids there, there's a massive green space, O'Fallon Park, and it was just situated really well for us to make that our hub.
I was doing some reading about the history of the park and the issues that have been going on there, and it seems like all these partners can contribute a lot to it.
I think it'll be, hopefully, a good thing for the community. We really try to turn our ears out and do some listening and hear what people needed or wanted, or wanted to see in the park, and what kind of enhancements maybe we could support, while also achieving the goals of Missouri Botanical Gardens and staying within the mission of all of our respective organizations, but still reacting to what the community wanted to see happening in the park. So, I think we're slowly getting there. That's a difficult process, as you probably know. "Community-driven" can mean a lot of different things to different people, but we're really trying to react and put projects together that are going to directly serve the people that use the park already.
It seems like people have been wanting change here for a long time.
Yeah. So, it's an exciting time. I think the trail will be cool. But, working with you all has been awesome, too. That's been a huge part of this. It's so cool for the crew to get to see that next level of training and certification and folks that are a little bit further along on their journey on what they want to do. Because we're all there, too, it's just a different time, a different part of the path. Even I'm there, you know, as the supervisor, so it's kind of cool.
Our Members really appreciate it, too, because it's an opportunity to work with another agency, or do something a little bit different then what we normally do, especially since it's a local project in St. Louis and it gives them an opportunity to teach the skills that they've learned.
And that's huge. And we try to do almost that same model with our crew, practicing all the steps, constantly hearing about ecology, and talking about these different relationships in the environment, and then it's really cool for [AmeriCorps St. Louis] to be able to have the opportunity to share that with the youth.
How did you get to where you are now? What's been your career path?
I've always liked to run around outside, so I grew up with that going on. I grew up in northern Illinois in the Quad cities area, so not too far away from here. I grew up in a rural community. Then, I moved to the city so I had this urban-rural thing going. And then studied geography in college, I got my Bachelor's in Geography and was into the GIS stuff and mapmaking and that sort of thing. Then, I did GIS for a small [agency] in South Carolina and I was guiding kayak tours at the same time in Edisto Island, just south of Charleston, about 25 miles. I was down there for about a year and then was itching to get back to the Midwest, so I signed up for the Minnesota Conservation Corps. That was kind of on a whim. I guess I did some research online. I'd had some friends who were interested in similar programs, so I went up there and did a season with [them]. Then I hopped on a barge with a cool organization called Living Lands and Waters—they're a river cleanup organization. I hopped on with them that winter and, after I finished my season there I went to New Orleans, hopped on with them for a couple weeks in a volunteer capacity, and then they brought me on as an intern. We were based out of the Quad Cities, but we went up the Ohio River, all the way up to Louisville and Mississippi, Quad Cities all the way down to New Orleans. So, I did that for a year and a half and then I worked on an organic farm in Asheville, North Carolina, for a year and a half, and then moved back to St. Louis, worked for tree service, and then I got this job. I always enjoy the education side of things, but I also enjoy being in the field so this is as close as I get. And I love the community stuff, too, interacting with those folks.
July 15, 2019