Who is Care of the Park will be a recurring series aimed at painting a picture of the people that make the program possible. From star volunteers to Park staff, this series will shine a light on who is Care of the Park and why they give back.
Emily Guo is a high school senior attending The Lawrenceville School. Passionate about service and sustainability, Emily reached out to Jersey Cares about volunteering at Essex County Branch Brook Park and the Care of the Park program. For 6 weeks, Emily volunteered as a Peer Leader, working with 11 high school students working for Care of the Park as part of the Summer Youth Employment Program. Below is an interview with Emily discussing her experiences as a Care of the Park volunteer:
Why do you volunteer?
“Before high school I never did any kind of volunteering. I really felt unmotivated. I always had an interest in sustainability and decided to search for those opportunities in high school. Once I started volunteering, being able to help others helped give me a purpose and motivation. I could give back to my community and have meaningful experiences, so it was kind of a win-win situation for me.”
What compelled you to volunteer with Care of the Park?
“Really it lined up with my own personal interests since I’ve always been passionate about the environment. I didn’t know much about Care of the Park or the Summer Youth Employment Program initially, but as I learned more I was excited. I was looking forward to working with people my age who had a shared mindset for making a difference. Doing all that while working in a beautiful park was just a bonus.”
What was your favorite moment volunteering in the park?
“It’s really hard to pick a specific moment. The first week of the program was awkward with the Park Ambassadors not really knowing each other. It wasn’t easy to get them to socialize or speak up, but as they got more comfortable working in the park and with each other that all changed. I’d say my favorite moment was when we came into work and I could see them being comfortable with each other and meaningful relationships being built. It made working together even more fun and the experience in the park even better.”
What was your biggest takeaway from your volunteer experience?
“The biggest thing I learned was understanding the perspective of others. My background was so different from the other Park Ambassadors and being able to learn about them helped me branch out my own views of the world. Learning about their passions and what mattered to each of them really opened my eyes. I found it both refreshing and inspiring.”
What advice would you give someone who’s thinking about volunteering?
“I’d say you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. It’s hard to put it into words what exactly I gained, but volunteering has been such a transformative experience. I could see the growth not just in me, but the other volunteers around me. You get all that and get to make a positive impact on a community. Walking through the park and seeing people enjoy the places I worked in was so worthwhile. You may not see the difference yourself, but people in the community definitely will. And that will make the few hours you spend volunteering totally worth it.”
What does Care of the Park mean to you?
“It was really a transformative experience. I went in there looking to use my skills to contribute and make a difference. But working with Care of the Park, the most valuable part was working with the volunteers and getting to know each of them. Working with our volunteer leaders (Jersey Cares staff and the Rutgers Master Gardeners leading the projects) I felt like they cared about getting to know us and really humanized the experience. I was fortunate enough to be able to help others, but I also gained so much from the people I worked with. To me, Care of the Park is the great people you get to work with.”