Volunteer Spotlight: Nicole Nugent
Nicole is a student at HELA High School in Evergreen Public Schools. She has been leading a group of students who regularly volunteer to maintain and enhance the Green Neighbors natural gardening demonstration site at Pacific Park. She also recently received the Marshall Youth Leadership Award. We recently asked Nicole to tell us a little bit more about her experiences volunteering and why she values community involvement.
Green Neighbors: How did you get started volunteering at the Pacific Park demonstration gardens?
Nicole: I have always been aware of environmental issues, but I didn't understand until my sophomore year just how pressing environmental issues are and how close to home they are too. I guess I always thought that I had to fly to the Arctic or the Amazon to help with environmental issues. But, in my sophomore year of high school, I enrolled in AP Biology and my perspective on environmental issues completely changed. I gained a more in-depth knowledge of the environment and realized the profoundness of the damage we, humans, have done to the Earth and the animals that inhabit it. Through this understanding, I gained a passion and drive for doing what I could to help with environmental issues by starting in my own community. So, at the end of my sophomore year, I decided to start an environmental club at my school. My goal was to give people at my school the opportunity to learn and experience all the different ways they could help with environmental issues in our community, from environmental education to eradication of weeds. When I was looking for club activities that summer, I learned about the opportunity to adopt Pacific Park Garden from being a member of V.I.N.E Squad and I was ecstatic because it was an opportunity to promote environmental health through natural gardening and environmental education; two of our club's core values.
Green Neighbors: Why do you choose to spend your volunteer time doing environment-related activities?
Nicole: I enjoy volunteering to help the environment because environmental health has a big impact on the health of our community, local ecosystems, and the beauty of our parks and trails. There are some invasive weeds that have been detrimental to Washington's economy such as the decline of the lumber industry due to scotch broom and crops such as wheat and potatoes due to rush skeletonweed. Due to the decline in these industries, many jobs were lost as well as money. In addition, invasive weeds cause harm to native plants that cause a decline in the health of parks and trails. Since I was a kid I have been going to Lacamas Lake Park for hiking around the lake and kayaking on the river, and I now enjoy removing holly from the woods around the trail to make sure the lake remains as healthy as possible for many years to come. Most of all, the environment can have a major impact on our health and playing a part in ensuring the health and safety of the community is an important role that I love being a part of.
Volunteering in the community helps people build social networks within the community that they can turn to when they are dealing with life challenges.Nicole Nugent
Green Neighbors: You recently were awarded the Marshall Youth Leadership Award – tell us about that! What advice would you give to other youth in our community who want to be leaders? To you, what does it mean to be a leader?
Nicole: My biggest advice to other youth is to never give up. A quote I have always lived by is, "If I can take it, I can make it" by Louis Zamperini. I have faced failure, setback, and rejection, but I never gave up from accomplishing my goals because I reminded myself that I was the only one in my way of success, I just needed to believe that I could accomplish the goal and continue pushing forward. With this perspective, you will discover an inner strength that will help you to be an amazing leader. In addition, my other advice is to always listen to your peers and never assign blame. A team works together, not against each other. To me, being a leader is being a shoulder to lean on, taking responsibility for your mistakes, giving back to the people of the community that have always supported you, and being brave enough to stand by your ideas even if no one agrees.
Green Neighbors: Why should others in our community volunteer?
Nicole: "Connection is the best prevention". Volunteering in the community helps people build social networks within the community that they can turn to when they are dealing with life challenges. For example, for youth, volunteering can surround them with people who can be positive influences in their lives and making them feel important and purposeful in their community. Volunteering also teaches us the power and importance of a community coming together to make a change, which is an amazing experience to be a part of. Lastly, volunteering can teach you important life lessons that will help you in your career, school, and other responsibilities. I want people to know that the most important thing you can do in life is to try. If you have a dream, chase it. If you have an idea, run with it. Don't allow anyone or anything to hold you back. When you try and refuse to give up you will realize your true potential and you will succeed.