Today I want to showcase a wonderful project that I have been involved in, through Texas Master Naturalists.
There are over 150 lakes in Texas, but all of them except one, are manmade lakes. They were formed by damming up rivers in the 1930s and 40s for flood control, and then into the 1950s and 60s as water reservoirs. Being manmade and recent, they face various environmental challenges, such as erosion, silting, and invasive plants.
I didn’t know anything about these lake issues until I heard two speakers, Scott Ball and Scooter Langley, from Friends of Lake Livingston. To combat erosion around Lake Livingston, they had partnered with local high schools to grow native plants needed for the shoreline. However, when schools let out for the summer, there was a problem with keeping the plants alive. So they turned to the horticulture class Scooter teaches at the Ellis Unit of Huntsville State Prison.
Scott went in as a guest speaker, to introduce the project of growing American Water Willows in the greenhouses and yards of the Unit. He happened to be wearing his Texas Master Naturalist shirt, and the students asked him what that was about. He explained that it is a volunteer organization, run by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Texas A & M AgriLife Extension. Participants take 40 hours of class to learn about nature, and then volunteer 40 hours a year to conserve nature. The students said, “We want to do that.”
After a huge amount of work in getting all the necessary permissions, and organizing speakers for all the sessions, Scott and Scooter made that happen. It was the first time a Master Naturalist course had been taught in a prison (and so far, it is the still the only one). The first year’s class put together this video about the program, and when I saw it, I wanted to help:
Here is where the plants end up to improve the lake ecosytem–
I was able to join in as a guest teacher, and for two years now, I have gone to Ellis Unit to help introduce the Texas Master Naturalist program on the first day of class. I have really enjoyed working with these motivated students!
This year, I got involved a little further, and participated in the actual planting of the water willows at Lake Livingston. I saw firsthand the large number of volunteers and organizations who cooperate to get this done! I was not much help, I could not move fast enough in the mucky river, but at least one kid got to do his good deed for the day by pulling me out when I got stuck. This video shows the day that the high school kids come out to plant.
This next video is really special — one of the students wrote this song on his own. Watch it with Closed Captioning on to fully appreciate the lyrics (although the automatic CC does have a few mistakes, for example it says “we love aphasia,” instead of “we love nature”). Who knew you could rhyme words like “erosion” and “fertilization”?
(For some reason, I can’t get it to embed, but if you click the link, you will go to it on YouTube.
This last one is not part of the actual project I work with, but it’s great; you can see these guys enjoy their moments of stardom!
This is wonderful! What a great project! I enjoyed all of the videos, and seeing the men in the Ellis Unit working with the plants reminded me of the women who worked with the horses at the prison where I taught. Those programs can truly change lives. How fulfilling and inspirational for you, too!
You are so right! And like I told you before, your experience teaching in the prison helped me decide to go too. I am just helping with a few sessions, and it has given me more appreciation for the big commitment you had there!
I enjoyed teaching in the prison and think often about the young women I taught, many of whom are out now. I also think about those who were my classroom aides, two of whom were in prison for life for murder. My life now is being a caregiver for my husband, but sometimes I wish I could teach there again.
Yes, aren’t the years that we can devote to volunteering too few? I feel the need to squeeze in a lot of hours before a health condition of mine or someone close to me requires me to spend more time at home. It is a blessing that you can care for him and not have to turn his care over to others, at least not yet.
What an outstanding program. As an educator, I really appreciate the way various groups are connected toward a common goal. Thanks for sharing this.
Early in my teaching career I taught some in an elementary school level of a local state prison, not as an inmate 🙂. This program is the right way to go.
Wow, I knew that most of the inmates don’t have much in the way of secondary education, but I never thought of them even needing elementary level skills. Sigh, there is so much need out there and it seems those of us who care can only achieve a little.
We ran an elementary and high school program. A few moved into the Jr. College courses.
Being involved in this has opened my eyes to how much co-ordination is needed for what seems like simple tasks. There is a huge amount of planning and coordination needed, just to get the plants out of the prison and delivered to the planting site, and then to get the pots and crates back in!
What a great program! Thanks for the info and the videos.
I am glad you liked it! I am happy to call attention to the efforts of so many people. 🙂
What a powerful program for good in all aspects. Great you are involved!
And I owe so much of my involvement and knowledge to you, and how welcoming you were when I started in the program!! 🙂
I met a blog friend for the first time last weekend, after the NPSoT fall symposium. She’s presently involved in the Master Naturalist training, and spends uncounted hours working with school gardens. Her experience supports what you say about the amount of coordination needed to pull off some of these projects, but this work at the prison is beyond wonderful.
I laughed at your planting experience. Some of the people I know who’ve helped plant along the coast, or at Clear Lake City’s Exploration Green, have had similar experiences. To grow, plant, and nurture is a large enough task; to provide the knowledge needed for all of those efforts to flourish is just as important. I’d love to be able to do some of that, but I learned, to my chagrin, that taking the Master Naturalist training just isn’t possible while I’m still working. No matter — there are projects galore where occasional help is welcomed.
Yes, when I lived in Fort Bend County, I couldn’t take the Master Naturalist training because it was during work hours. Here in Montgomery County, they run the trainings on alternate Saturday mornings, which is still a huge time commitment for a working person. But, all of the meetings are open to the public, so maybe you can go to those, if they are held at a convenient time.
I wouldn’t have even tried to get in that river, if not for the guys I teach with at the prison, convincing me that I needed to see the full cycle. Good thing I am of the age where good experience counts more than good appearance. 🙂
Thanks for that tip about Montgomery County!
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Thank you, Chris
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