Youth in Action program fosters friendships among young teenagers

Saturday, June 11, 2011 | 4:42 p.m. CDT; updated 8:44 p.m. CDT, Saturday, June 11, 2011
A group of seven Youth in Action participants listens Saturday morning as park aide, master naturalist and trained volunteer Meredith Donaldson, left, teaches how to identify honeysuckle, an invasive plant at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park. "Once you see it this much, you'll recognize it everywhere you go," Donaldson said.

COLUMBIA — Who knew honeysuckles were invasive to other surrounding plants? Not John Rohmiller until Saturday morning.

“Their leaves look like a ladder,” said Meredith Donaldson, a park aide, trained volunteer and “master naturalist” with the Missouri Parks Association.


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Rohmiller, 15, was one of the seven kids who showed up to volunteer with the Youth in Action Program at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park on Saturday. In addition to volunteering to help with invasive plant removal, they had the opportunity to learn about parks, nature and conservation efforts from Donaldson.

Jill Geyer, 13, said she first participated in the program last year. After searching online for volunteer opportunities, she found the YIA program on the city’s website.

“I really wanted to volunteer, but I’ve never done something like this before,” she said of the plant removal project.

Brian Jost and Aaron Canty, both 14, became friends through the program when they met at Wednesday's Stream Team event at Flat Branch Creek.

Both boys were introduced to the program by their mothers.

“My mom knows best,” Canty said.

Last year Jost took part in three activities and said he was “forced” by his mother to participate. This year, however, he is increasing his volunteer efforts to four events.

“This year, I kind of had a choice,” he said. “But I liked it last year.”

Coordinating the whole program and Saturday morning's plant removal was John Osborn, an MU social work graduate student and an intern with the program.

“Teamwork makes the dream work,” Osborn said jokingly to Jost and Canty as they were assisting each other in removing the honeysuckles with a pair of loppers.

The most effective way to remove honeysuckles without damaging surrounding plants is to cut of the branch as far down as possible, Donaldson said.

“It’s fun and hard work,” Aaron said, “John is our leader, and he makes it awesome.”

Osborn joked with Geyer, who happened to be the only girl volunteer, that she should be the “Queen Bee and put all the other worker bees to work.”

“Well, where I come from, we have a King Bee,” Jost said, chiming in on Osborn’s joke.

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