PENDLETON — For the last six weeks, four local teenagers have been led by crew leader Adam Charlton as they survey and catalog trees around Pendleton.
“To the untrained eye, it looks like we’re walking down the street just looking at our iPads,” Charlton said.
In reality, the crew is a part of the Oregon Youth Conservation Corps’ (OYCC) summer program that finished its project on Friday of creating a database of the city’s trees that will better inform Pendleton Parks and Recreation and Tree Commission about the health of its urban forest.
“Yes, it’s tedious and it’s work,” said Susie Stuvland, program manager for Community Action Program of East Central Oregon (CAPECO). “But it’s super important. They’re making a difference.”
While the OYCC is a statewide program, Eastern Oregon’s crews work under CAPECO, which finds projects and obtains grants for the student’s wages.
The project, which is a continuation of last year’s OYCC work in Pendleton, requires the students to track the trees on or near city property, identify their species, assess their health and whether they’re dangerous to the habitat, and any other info they can gather.
The crew consists of Charlton, Addison and Kendall Bonzani, Macy LeGore and Sydney Davis. After finding a balance of roles for each member that has strengthened its teamwork, the crew said they’ve surveyed between 200-300 trees per day.
As the group continued its work along a neighborhood on Southeast First Street last Friday, Addison carried the iPad with a GPS map to locate each tree that hasn’t yet been added to the database. Arriving at their next target just off the sidewalk, Macy LeGore and Sydney Davis began to inspect the leaves while Kendall asked if anybody had the book for identification.
Lightly tugging the branches down to look closer, LeGore said she didn’t have it on her but was confident it was a Norway while Addison began taking pictures of the tree that will be included in the database.
“What really impresses me is the knowledge they have on trees now,” Stuvland said.
While walking up and down the streets, identifying and assessing trees may sound mundane, the crew said they’re always getting asked why exactly they’re examining the trees near people’s property.
“We run into a lot of people,” Kendall said. “And once we tell them, most are like, ‘Wow, thank you so much for what you’re doing.”
“A lot of people ask if we can cut down their tree,” Charlton said, laughing.
While they haven’t added lumberjack skills quite yet, the crew hasn’t just been walking around looking at trees.
Earlier in the week, the group spent two days cleaning up 180 pounds of garbage around the Umatilla River. And earlier this summer, the group worked on cleaning up the Kiwanis Cabins where Outdoor School is held. There, Charlton said they laid gravel, cleared out wood and repainted one of the girls’ cabins.
Friday marked the end of the crew’s outdoor environmental stewardship along with the end of Charlton and Davis’s work with OYCC. However, the Bonzani twins and LeGore will be helping Stuvland at the CAPECO office with filing and other tasks for the coming weeks.
The idea, Stuvland said, is for the students to gain not just the specialized and labor-intensive skills from their environmental projects but also the “soft transferable skills” from working in the office. Along with their hands-on experience, earlier in the summer each of the students also received their National Career Readiness Certificate.
Overall, the OYCC programs help students develop the necessary skills and routines to be employed in what for many is their first jobs, which was the case for the Bonzanis and Davis.
“It’s definitely a good first job,” Addison said. “I see it as sticking a toe in the water.”
Addison and Kendall Bonzani live in Pendleton and are entering their junior year in high school, though both are homeschooled and take online courses. Davis is entering his senior year and LeGore recently graduated from Pendleton High School.
After working last summer as a technician assistant and already earning some college credits, LeGore said she’s not sure what’s next for her after OYCC. For now, she said she’s considered joining the Air Force and plans to save money.
As for Charlton, he recently moved from Los Angeles and has been employed by the InterMountain Education School District, where he said he’ll soon find out what elementary school he’ll be working for this year.
Though the group entered the summer mostly inexperienced in the workforce, in the six weeks of working 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday, Stuvland said there was only one day when a student overslept and showed up late.
“They’ve worked really hard this summer. They’re just a good group of kids,” she said.
But as their summer of work comes to a close, the crew is also having some fun.
On Friday, the crew’s work ended at noon to allow them to go and spend the afternoon relaxing at the Pendleton Family Aquatic Center.
And according to Addison, the group filmed and is editing a video starring themselves in a OYCC spoof of the popular television show “The Office.”
“It will hopefully be funny and not cringy,” Addison said as the whole group laughed.
“I know I’ll find it funny,” Stuvland said, smiling.