Literacy education is extremely important to GEM Environmental because it is the building block for all subject matters. Even in mathematics, reading is integral to utilizing mathematics in real-world situations and understanding word problems. Additionally, GEM is especially passionate about students understanding how to read scientific stories from a young age. From learning common words used in all stories to learning the jargon of a specific field, giving students the ability to discover how to read scientific stories has always been an underlying mission for GEM Environmental.
With that mission in mind, GEM decided to create Little Free Libraries for the Prescott Community. Little Free Libraries are small, box-size libraries that are usually placed outside to be enjoyed by any community member. The idea is that the box is filled with books, and if you take a book, you replace it with another book that you own and are willing to donate. This is beneficial in that children can further their reading level while not having to spend money on books and also ensuring new books are continuously placed in the Little Free Library.
The Little Free Libraries are important because they help improve literacy rates, provide books year-round to help mitigate the “summer slide” where kids’ reading skills decrease, and encourage community sharing. GEM was proud to be able to place three Little Free Libraries at different locations around town: the Prescott Unified School District Office, Primavera Elementary School, and Mountain Oak School.
The actual event of making the Little Free Libraries was quite fun! We had three GEM staff members and five volunteers help. Robert Briggs, GEM Environmental's amazing Operations and Program Technician, and Gary Welsh, Eric’s father, took the lead in teaching the group how to use electric saws, nail guns, and super glue. Volunteer extraordinaire, Katie Retwaiut said “It was so fun to get to do a hands-on project that will help support the community. And I got to learn how to use a variety of tools I had never seen before!”
We also furthered our mission as an organization by placing STEM-related books in all of the Little Free Libraries to promote STEM education. One book that we have read in its entirety on our YouTube Channel is Rachel Ignotofsky’s “Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World.” Recommended by Dr. Kristina Dandy, a Georgia College & State University professor with a young daughter, the book tells the tale of 50 women who made major contributions to the scientific fields. With its amazing illustrations and beautiful stories, GEM hoped that it would inspire young girls to gain an interest in the science fields. Considering the ratio of men to women in the STEM fields is 3:1, it’s vital that we inspire young girls to take an interest in STEM at the beginning of their education.
GEM’s team had a lot of fun creating these Little Free Libraries and we are so happy that after a full year and a half, all of the libraries are still holding strong. We welcome you to go check them out and maybe read a few of the books yourself!
In honor of 2020’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day, GEM Environmental hosted an event through Arizona Serve to create bat houses for the community. Utilizing Northpoint Expeditionary Learning Academy’s gym, GEM team members and five amazing community volunteers created six bat houses with materials donated by Arizona Serve.
Due to deforestation and habitat degradation, bats may have difficulties finding a safe place to stay and raise their young. With GEM having a focus on environmental conservation, we thought it would be a great idea to help create habitats for bats in the Prescott Community.
Our past AmeriCorps State Member, Kali Plummer, took the lead in creating informational plaques to go along with the bat houses. She also researched bats and created a presentation on them for her senior project at Prescott College. Her passion for this project was a big inspiration for GEM, and we are so happy she got to take a lead in it.
On the day of the event, everyone got to work on different parts of the project to maximize efficiency and highlight everyone’s individualized expertise. Eric Welsh, Joseph Willoughby, and Jason Parker cut out the pieces needed with a wood saw. Then, the volunteers paired up into teams of two and started putting the pieces together. Chicken wire was attached to the inner board to enable bats to clutch onto it while in their new home. Additionally, a small sliver of an opening was left at the bottom of the houses so that only bats could fit into the enclosure. Lastly, the roofs were put on at a slant to ensure rain, snow, and hail would slide off of the top instead of weighing down the structure. All of the volunteers learned how to use new tools, and everyone learned new information regarding what is important to house a bat.
GEM members also enjoyed the project and played vital roles in its success. Past State Member Alex Monksfield, did an amazing job at inviting community members to join and even got her favorite biology teacher to get involved. Jason Parker, another past State Member, appreciated the chance to learn how to use a wood saw and had a lot of fun creating the pieces needed for the bat houses. Madison Link, past VISTA and current Program Coordinator, was astounded to see how small the houses to protect the bats from predators. It is with the help of our amazing AmeriCorps members, GEM staff, partners, and volunteers that we are able to create community projects that keep Prescott a beautiful, safe, and welcoming place for our local wildlife!
In October, our GEM Environmental team had the opportunity to give back to the community and work towards bettering the environment through a Park Clean-Up at Granite Creek! Early in the morning of October 9th, our team met up with Kelly Tolbert, Recreation Director of the Prescott Recreation Services, to clean up litter around Prescott’s Granite Creek Park for our October Service Project.
Upon our arrival, Kelly gave us the tools we needed and maps of the surrounding areas. We split up into groups of two to conquer the trails around Granite Creek Park that led into other parts of the community. Armed with one trash bag holder, two metal trash grabbers, and a desire to improve our communal environment, we set off. Many people that we encountered on the trails asked who we were working with and why we were picking up trash, and we had the chance to share information about GEM and what we do!
As with all of our service projects, every GEM team member was thrilled to work towards improving our community and creating exposure for our organization. Ellen Snyder, a GEM AmeriCorps State Member, stated, “I really enjoyed exploring Prescott and beautifying the area with the whole team. It was amazing to see how much litter we picked up and how great the areas looked afterward.” As always, the GEM team had a fun time working together and making a difference in our community.
The Community Nature Center, or CNC, has been around since the early 1970s. In the past, it has been used as a nature retreat for bird watchers, native vegetation enthusiasts, and other interest groups. That was until the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, when the CNC’s potential was expanded to include more education-based initiatives. GEM Environmental had started its GEM for STEM programming in 2019 and found that their skills could be of use to provide the CNC with STEM curriculum to students in an outdoor and experiential learning environment. Since then, GEM Environmental has helped teach students STEM lessons and has created conducive learning spaces for students and educators at the CNC. One part of the CNC that has received a lot of attention is the area surrounding the pond.
Since early February 2021, GEM Environmental has been working closely with the CNC and Prescott Recreation Services to renovate the pond area through multiple projects. Previous to the renovations, the pond area was highly eroded from foot traffic and water flow in addition to lacking a clear path to the pond itself. The lack of clear paths alongside the erosive layout of the area was exacerbated by the pond being of high interest for many visitors which increases foot traffic. For their first project, GEM planned diligently with Barnabas Kane from Consilium Design and Ellen Bashor from the CNC to recreate the pond area. In the planning, the project partners thought thoroughly about how to create an educational space that allows for large groups to occupy the area, while not eroding the vegetation as well. Keeping all that in mind, Barnabas drew up a blueprint of what he thought would be the most effective then they all planned a date to execute the proposal.
On February 24th, GEM Environmental alongside Chris Hosking from Recreation Services, two members from the “Over the Hill Gang”, and Ellen Bashor renovated the pond area in multiple ways. First, using an excavator, two swales were dug on the southern portion of the pond area to encourage water to flow into the pond. Also, the excavator was used to dig three terraces into the hill on the northside to create an amphitheater. While this was taking place, another path was made to allow access to the pond. As a part of the new path, stones were added in the portion that crossed the swales so water could flow while keeping the path dry.
GEM was motivated to contribute to this project given our close relationship with the CNC and the number of educational opportunities that this project created. Now that there is a path to the pond and an amphitheater, larger numbers of people can enjoy the area and can access the pond without erosion. Henry Dhalberg, a volunteer with the CNC, has said how pleased he is with the renovations that have been made.
This is only one project of the many that are still to be done at the CNC pond area, and GEM will continue to be motivated to contribute to the overall well-being of the CNC and creating conducive learning spaces for all visitors at the pond area.
Taylor Hicks Elementary School in Prescott Unified School District (PUSD) has a goal to teach students about nutritious foods and allow them to try fresh, earth-grown food. Approximately seven years ago, Cari Cole, a teacher at Taylor Hicks, worked with Yavapai County Community Health Services (YCCHS) to create a school gardening program in the classroom as well as a garden club. Cari Cole has been Taylor Hick’s Garden Champion since the creation of this program. Sarah Reveile, coordinator of the Farm to School Program, said “Our Farm to School Program is grateful to have such a devoted and passionate Garden Champion.”
The garden started as just a couple of raised beds on the north side of campus near the soccer field. In recent years, due to the new PUSD Farm to School AmeriCorps VISTAs, the school garden has grown into a full-sized garden. Volunteers from YCCHS helped create 10 raised garden beds, an outdoor classroom was assembled, and a drip irrigation system was put into place.
GEM Environmental has also been a major contributor to making Taylor Hick’s garden prosper. In 2019, Paul Reznik, the Farm to School AmeriCorps VISTA at the time, reached out to GEM asking for help building a fence around the garden. Animals had been creeping in during the afternoon hours to munch on all of the tasty treats the garden has to offer, and Paul was hoping to find a peaceful method to stop them. Eric Welsh, the Executive Director of GEM, was happy to help!
Eric led a team of volunteers who worked to install the fence around the garden. The project resulted in a fence which is over 6-feet tall and protects the garden well from animals, vandals, and fly-away sports balls.
Then in 2021, GEM reached out to the current Garden Champion VISTA, Sara Reveile, to ask if the GEM team could help her with an event for our February 2021 service project. She enthusiastically agreed and immediately knew which project needed the most support! While the fence helped keep animals such as deer out, it was not able to stop the gophers from digging under the fence and getting into the garden. Therefore, Sara asked our team to dig a 2-foot-deep trench around the garden so that chicken wire could be placed under the ground.
In regards to the event, Sarah commented “Due to the pandemic, PUSD has limited volunteer activities on school campuses in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Our volunteer event with GEM Environmental was the first event we've been able to have in many months. We felt confident that the exposure risk would be low given that we were all working outside in the garden, physically distant, and with masks on. Since this is the first volunteer event our Farm to School Program has had in many months, we were enormously grateful to have a full crew of people help us complete a large project such as this.”
GEM was happy to contribute to this project because the garden has been used for a variety of educational purposes. School gardens can be used to teach almost any subject, from science to art. This diversity and opportunity within education is exactly what Cari Cole strives for. The school garden helps Mrs. Cole's students apply seemingly abstract concepts in the classroom to tangible examples in the garden. On average, 35 students get to try each 'batch' of garden goods. Mrs. Cole's 1st-grade class and her garden club get to enjoy the fruit of their labor while enjoying the fruits and vegetables that are grown in the school garden.
The GEM team was happy to be able to help protect the labor of Mrs. Cole’s 1st-grade class! With the newly expanded GEM team, 8 GEM members helped with this service event. This project was inspiring and unique because it allowed our organization to be part of a sustainable solution to a problem that has given the garden so much trouble, especially since students interact with the Taylor Hicks Garden in many different ways.
In honor of Women’s History Month, GEM Environmental created a story walk along Tom’s Trail in Acker Park to recognize the amazing achievements of five female minority STEM professionals. The stories spotlight Mary G. Ross, Maryam Mirzakhani, Mamie Phipps Clark, Chien-Shiung Wu, and Ellen Ochoa. Through the walk, you learn about their stories, the hardships they had to overcome, their vital contributions to STEM, and ways for you to get involved!
GEM’s mission is to create avenues for the advancement of students in STEM programs to industry careers by providing unique educational opportunities for continued personal growth. Madison Link, GEM’s Program Coordinator, believes that to continue towards advancement, we must also look back at those who have come before us, who have broken boundaries, and who have accomplished amazing achievements despite adversity. Rooted in these ideas and values, Madison was inspired to create GEM’s Acker Park project by the existing story walk at Granite Creek Park.
Granite Creek Park has an amazing story walk designed to teach elementary school students reading comprehension skills. Created by the Prescott Public Library, community members are able to enjoy an educational space in nature. The story walk simultaneously provides parents with tips on how to support their children in learning, while also using elementary reading level language so that children can practice their reading skills!
Madison thought this was a wonderful idea and decided a story walk would be an excellent way to showcase minority STEM professionals who impacted various STEM fields. Madison shared, “Story walks are great for the community! They help inspire people to be active outside and are a great way to learn along the way. It just makes sense that GEM would follow the Prescott Public Libraries lead as we are always looking to promote outdoor educational spaces.”
Working with Kelly Tolbert, Prescott Recreation Service’s Recreation Coordinator, they decided that a story walk aimed at the middle school reading level would be perfect. Then they worked together to find a great location, eventually deciding on Tom’s Trail in Acker Park.
Once the writing got underway, the entire team worked together to create vivid biographies for these five amazing women. Madison researched and identified the information while Annie Warner, Abby Ruby, and Brandon White helped edit the information into a comprehensive story. Annie Warner, AmeriCorps State Member and GEM’s media expert, stated “This project is unique and meaningful because it addresses community issues in a sustainable way. By sharing the accomplishments of minority women in STEM with community members, we can inspire many generations to come.”
All of the women GEM highlighted had extensive and meaningful narratives and achievements worth sharing, so it was difficult at times to comprehensively highlight it all in just a few short sentences. But with collaboration and teamwork, the GEM staff was able to do it!
While writing the pieces was extremely important, so was building the plaques that the stories rest on. Eric Welsh and his three children helped to create those plaques from scratch. Using their welding skills, Eric and his sons created frames for the plaques and ingenious tops that will allow the stories to be changed at a later date.
Once all the pieces were created and ready, the team began the installation process on March 31st, the last day of Women’s History Month! The team met at 10 AM to get started on digging holes for the posts, mixing cement, and centering the plaques just right. After three hours of hard work, the first parts of the plaques were installed. Abby Ruby, GEM Environmental AmeriCorps VISTA, said “I got to learn a lot about manual labor yesterday, which was awesome! Mixing and shoveling concrete, powering on an auger, and digging through clay isn’t how I thought I'd spend my Wednesday, but it was a great new way to make a difference in the community.”
Not only was it a good opportunity to learn about manual labor, but Annie Warner also got to stretch her project planning and design skills. She states, “During this project, I learned more about the logistics behind planning for community learning. I was able to gain a new perspective on the extensive work needed to complete a project like this including the graphic design elements, coordination with community partners, and physical installation components.”
GEM is passionate about initiating beautiful and educational changes within the community, especially when it supports our members in learning new skills. GEM is constantly and consistently focused on creating positive impacts in community spaces, building skills through experiential activities for our members, and designing sustainable projects that empower community learning. The Acker Park Story Walk incorporates all each of these three elements!
To see the fruits of our labor, please visit Tom’s Trail in Acker Park! You can get to it via the Summer Field street entrance. It’s a great way to get active while learning!
On Saturday, April 17th, the GEM Environmental staff took part in the 14th annual Granite Creek Cleanup organized by Prescott Creeks. During this event, Creeks all over the Prescott area were being cleaned by over five hundred community members. GEM was proud to be a part of such a wide spread event that brought so many community members together in a meaningful way.
Arriving at 7 AM, GEM’s team helped get the event set up. From placing sponsorship banners to helping set up tables with all of the materials people needed for the event, the ten GEM members on-site helped make this event a success. When people started lining up to collect their materials, GEM staff helped direct traffic, hand out materials in a safe contact-free way, and answered community member questions. Over the course of the day, GEM members interacted with over 80 group leaders collecting materials for the cleanup.
Brandon White, Program Manager of GEM Environmental, states, “GEM is growing so quickly that it can be difficult to have all the members of the team get together. This was a great event to have our new members from GEM Corps interact with both our AmeriCorps members and the behind-the-scenes staff that keeps GEM running.” Madison Link, the Program Coordinator of GEM Environmental, echoes those statements by saying, “It was great to see everyone from the different sections of GEM come together to help with this event. It is even cooler that this event is so prominent in Prescott and does so much good for the community itself!”
After the event, all volunteers were able to eat the delicious food provided by Nick’s Feed Your Face and Two Mamas’ Gourmet Pizzas! Nick has always been so gracious with helping provide food for GEM events and other community initiatives. He and his amazing subs are a true staple for the community!
While this event helped make great progress in our community, we are looking forward to more cleanup opportunities around Prescott and are excited for the 2022 Granite Greek Cleanup!