Pond Lily continues to be invigorated by Solar Youth Stewards!

Spring 2014 was a big season for Solar Youth and the Pond Lily Nature Preserve. Stewards continued to see Pond Lily for what it is: a beautiful and peaceful natural resource just steps from their homes...if only it was cleaner and more inviting. Stewards have hosted several clean-ups over the past few seasons, but this season called for more than just picking up trash.

The West Hills Steward Team is a group of 14 dedicated and exuberant young people that mostly reside in the McConaughy Terrace public housing development. McConaughy Terrace’s back yard is Pond Lily and the West River. The Stewards have had a special interest in keeping it clean and creating more community use for the area. Solar Youth, with help from New Haven Land Trust, motivated the 14 Stewards to re-imagine what Pond Lily could be. Stewards were determined to connect the West Hills neighborhood back to the natural resource that is their backyard.

Stewards decided to start with what they knew; they collected trash and debris that has been placed in Pond Lily by people from over the years. Over the entire season, over 60 bags of trash were removed from Pond Lily. Stewards tallied each bag of trash they collected with a sticker!

Later on during the season, when the weather got nicer, Stewards wanted their community members to be able to see how beautiful Pond Lily was. They decided that it was necessary to clear trails to enable easy access. Stewards were able to clear a pre-exisiting trail by removing shrubs and large branches that had fallen from storms. They cleared an entire trail from the main entrance of Pond Lily all the way to where the dam is located several hundred yards away.

For their final project, the West Hills Stewards were so proud of their accomplishments that they wanted to invite and entice all to come to Pond Lily. They were determined to create a beautiful area that West Hills residents could enjoy. How were 14 young people going to beautify Pond Lily more than they already did? FLOWERS! They decided to plant a small garden of perennials and marigolds. In total they planted 30 flowers next to the Pond Lily sign located on East Ramsdell St. and were so excited about all of their accomplishments.

This season has been such a journey and exciting time for Solar Youth to be involved in a such an exciting restoration project. Stewards will continue their efforts in coming seasons to make a clean, safe and healthy Pond Lily a priority in their lives, and in the lives of their friends and neighbors.

Neighborhood Focus: Newhallville

Solar Youth focuses its programs on specific New Haven neighborhoods that have few constructive out-of-school opportunities for young people. Our aim is to establish a pipeline of programs in these neighborhoods, which we call the Cycle of Stewardship, so that youth can participate in Solar Youth from as young as the age of four all the way through high school graduation and beyond. Over time, through a series of PROGRAMS, a PRESENCE in their communities, and support from our PARTNERS, Solar Youth supports youth as they build on their experiences, maintain relationships, progressively gain leadership skills, become positive change agents in their environments, and as teenagers serve as role models for younger children. By progressing through the Cycle, Solar Youth becomes a safe, consistent, and loving part of each of our young people's often chaotic lives. As more than one of our youth have said, "Solar Youth is like my family."

One of Solar Youth’s program sites is Newhallville, where we have had a consistent after-school presence for two years. We currently base our programs out of St. Andrews Church on Shelton Ave. Pastor Tracy and her team have been incredibly gracious hosts and much appreciated partners.

Stewards enjoying the sunshine at St. Andrews Church in Newhallville!!!

During program, Newhallville Stewards explore the neighborhood, learning about local ecology and issues of importance to the community: they walk the Farmington Canal bike path, visit Beaver Pond Park (where many Stewards recently had their first swan sighting) and really look forward to eventualy spending a lot of time at the Ivy Street Greenhouse and collaborating with local gardeners, Lincoln-Basset School, Neighborhood Housing Services and others. 

A swan sighting; the end of an exploration at Beaver Pond

Stewards also help make Newhallville a better place to live, work and play by supporting other community groups’ projects and designing and implementing their own C-SAPs! Solar Youth frequently partners with Tammy Chapman and Newhallville Community Matters on street clean-ups, including a recent one of Lilac Street, and other projects like handing out flyers on community events. In March, Solar Youth Educators Gammy and Hawa tabled at a neighborhood health fair, dispensing tips on nutrition. Later this spring, staff and Stewards will coordinate an activity at a pop-up village as part of the Arts and Ideas festival.

Stewards passing out flyers on a community clean-up; picking up trash at Lincoln-Basset School

We’ve loved getting to know our Newhallville Stewards, their families and other residents over these past two years and are proud to play a role in promoting environmental and community stewardship in the neighborhood over the long term!

Solar Youth Interns become Hip Hop Poets and Film Producers!

In a collaboration made possible by the Perrin Family Foundation between Solar Youth, hip hop poet and playwright Aaron Jafferis, film production organization Hallah Edutainment and the Citywide Youth Coalition, Solar Youth teenage Interns recently embarked on a special poetry-writing and documentary-making project that will culminate with the screening of an Intern-produced video at Solar Youth’s spring Public Education Forum on May 22nd.


At the first session on February 17th, Solar Youth Interns and Educators participated in a writing and forum theater workshop, facilitated by Aaron and Solar Youth Educator Josh, to create insightful poetry and actions that portrayed important problems in their communities. This exercise provided an outlet for Interns to articulate and share their experiences candidly and creatively while feeling comfortable, confident, and empowered. Almost everyone shared their unique poem or rap, each of which communicated a deep sense of emotion surrounding community challenges that are otherwise difficult to talk about. We are so proud of our Interns!

Hashim Allah of Hallah Edutainment recorded audio and video of this process, and spoke with Interns David and Danny, who will help Hashim lead the ongoing recording, editing, and final production of the video. 

Aaron and Hashim are activists and work extensively with youth development initiatives throughout New Haven. Aaron has led and facilitated hip-hop theater/poetry initiatives with various youth programs since 1996.  Hashim is a poet and founder of Hallah Edutainment, a youth development organization that offers several unique programs to urban youth including hip hop literacy, theatre, expressive broadcasting, and environmental education. 

In addition to the screening at the season-end Public Education Forum, Interns will deliver a workshop at the Citywide Youth Coalition’s 2014 Youth Summit in mid-April to share resources and experiences with their peers.

We want to thank everyone involved for their support in making this unique project possible for our Interns! 

Solar Youth awarded by AMC!!


 (Gammy and Sarah celebrating the Youth Service Award!)

Solar Youth has a long-standing relationship with the Youth Opportunities Program (YOP).  YOP is a program of the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC); its mission is to make the outdoors accessible and meaningful to urban and at-risk youth.  YOP operates as a resource center for youth agencies throughout the Northeast, teaching youth workers the skills they need to independently take their youth outdoors.  They also provide YOP-trained members with support services such as free use of outdoor equipment, trip planning assistance, and subsidized overnights at AMC lodging destinations! 

Solar Youth has been sending educators to YOP training trainings for many years and as a result has been able to bring more youth on extended camping trips and retreats!  These trainings also provide great professional development and outdoor leadership skills to staff members. 

Solar Youth was recently awarded the Agency Youth Service Award by YOP for being an agency that led some of the most trips, served the most youth, and led the longest trips. In 2013, Solar Youth provided opportunities for over 900 youth to get outside! Thanks so much to YOP and the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) for the recognition and for making our vision of getting youth outside a reality!

Shortly after receiving our award, Solar Youth’s Citycology Coordinator, Sarah Morrison, headed out for a winter-themed training at AMC's Highland Center in New Hampshire to prepare her for Solar Youth's upcoming Intern retreat in February.

Immediately upon arrival, the group, comprised of youth workers from around the Northeast, quickly changed into their outdoor gear and received a quick cross-country ski tutorial before hitting the snow.  The group learned how to ski the same way that they will soon be teaching their youth: without poles! Once they demonstrated that they could handle skiing without poles, they got to practice falling!  They slipped, slid, and glided right until the sun went down and it was time to debrief, chat about hypothermia, and get some rest.

The next day was all about winter travel!  The YOP group learned how to stay warm, properly layer in the winter, use snowshoes, and cross rivers in the winter all while hiking up a mountain! 

While hiking, they also played silly trail games and had the opportunity to learn more about the work that they each did with youth.  Sarah mentioned this as one of her favorite aspects of the training: "It's so inspiring to be around a group of people who all care deeply about youth.  A lot of us work with youth that come from similar backgrounds and have the same struggles at their organizations.  It's a great opportunity to problem solve, troubleshoot, and learn.  And we get to be outside and learn new games to bring back to our youth!"

After hiking up for hours the team made it to the top!

The group practiced healthy risk taking by sliding back down the mountain!

The next day was another early morning of lessons, skiing, debriefing, and then loading up and heading back to the YOP office!

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Ms. Harrison and Mr. Juarez go to Hartford!

On Valentine's Day, we made our annual trip to the Capitol to testify in support of continued funding for Solar Youth from the State of Connecticut. Joining us this year were Solar Youth alumnus Quintaisja Harrison and current Intern Andy Juarez. Check out their inspiring testimony below:

Quintaisja Harrison, Solar Youth Alumnus (at top right in photo below)

Age: 18

Number of seasons with Solar Youth: 8, from 2010 through 2013

Solar Youth has helped me become a more confident and outgoing individual. This organization has helped to shape my community for the better allowing me to interact with others in my neighborhood. Working as an intern for Solar Youth during high school helped me to become a more patient, interactive, and determined young adult. For four years I have worked with incredible individuals that have given me hope for a better future. I opened my mind to new things such as exploration and Community Service Action Projects also known as CSAPS’s. I enjoyed working with children around my neighborhood and making a difference in their lives. Every year I look forward to Solar Youth programming so that I can be with others who enjoy explorations and working with young children to give them a shot at an experience that I cherish so much.  As of now I am a current freshman at the University of Hartford studying to become a Physical Therapist.  Not a day goes by when I don’t think back on all of the great opportunities and experiences that solar youth had to offer. This by far is one of the best programs that I have been involved in that reaches across a city and touches so many people forever bonding us and leaving behind a lifetime full of memories and unexpected friendships.

Andy Juarez, Solar Youth Intern (At top right in photo below)   


Age: 17

Number of seasons with Solar Youth: 6, from 2006 through 2014

When I was in middle school I participated in a local organization called Solar Youth; a group that reaches out to youth throughout New Haven to teach them about the environment and the importance of conservation. There were various activities that consisted of exploring the community and conducting student-led C-SAP’s, Community Service Action Projects. Through Solar Youth, I was introduced to the idea of preserving nature and the environment. The activities and projects I was a part of as a youth sparked my interest. I was so intrigued by the marvels of nature and the mysteries it unravels that once in high school, I became a youth educator with the program.

I worked for this organization for 2 years with kids ranging from 5 to 11 years old. Teaching kids the same values I learned, and showing them that they can make a difference in the world, is significant to me. I did not only become a leader in my community, but I made a positive difference in the lives of the youth I worked with and the environment. Often times during program, the students would tell me that they were teaching their friends at school and their families what I was teaching them. One time when a parent picked up their child, they told me that I was doing a great job teaching their child. The parent had observed a change in attitude for the environment in the student. This experience inspired me to continue learning about the environment and pursue an environmental science concentration at the Sound School.

Thanks for being such amazing Solar Youth Ambassadors, Quintaisja and Andy!

Solar Youth Stewards Go Ice-Fishing!!!!

Solar Youth Winter Explorers and Staff had many FIRSTS this past weekend at the No Child Left Inside Winter Festival in Torrington CT! The main event of the Festival was ice fishing, which none of our Stewards or Staff had ever done before. 

 Along with ice fishing many of our Stewards had never walked on a frozen lake before! As soon as we stepped onto the snow-covered ice our Stewards began to dig, they had to see the ice to make sure they were walking on it for real! 

After playing on the ice for a few minutes we settled into our new environment and found the perfect little lunch spot!  Our Stewards were antsy to get back on the ice so Educators played games and explored with those who finished early until the whole group was ready to get fishing!

After lunch our Stewards met the Rangers who supplied them with a fishing pole, bait, and fishing tips!  Then the fishign began!

Some Stewards caught lake weed, one Steward caught a fish, and others wondered where all the fish were hiding!  

Along with fishing youth also got a chance to learn about gutting and frying fish!  They even tried some fish that was caught and fried that day!  After getting cold on the ice, Stewards retreated to the bon fire to warm up before heading home on the bus!!!

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Tree-Tectives Adventure Fall 2013

Over the past few weeks our Citycology Stewards, ages 4- 8 years old, have been busy exploring the woods and focusing on trees in their neighborhood! They made binoculars out of toilet paper rolls, put on magnifying glasses, grabbed clip boards, headed for the woods and became Tree-Tectives!  On this cool Fall evening, the Citicology Stewards were able to venture out into the wilderness on an adventure to learn about the trees in their neighborhood!

Our little Tree-Tectives went out in search of the perfect tree to study!  Once they choose a tree, they examined it using their five senses, and later described how the bark felt on their hands, what it smelled like, what kind of leaves it had, their shape and texture, how tall their tree was, and how many leaves were left.  The Tree-Tectives were able to get in touch with nature while exploring the changing leaves of Fall! After fully examinging the tree, they then choose a name for their perfect tree and picked some leaves from the forest floor. After the Tree-Tectives had collected enough leaves, they headed back to the program room to talk about their experiences and learn more about the trees they encountered.

 Back inside the program room, they learned about chlorophyll and why leaves change colors.   Once their curiosity was sparked, they learned about the different parts of the tree while building a tree in their program room and laminated the leaves they had collected earlier. The Tree-Tectives even made face masks with the leaves they had laminated and created posters with facts they learned! The day was a fun-filled learning experience for the Citycology Stewards!

And of course they had an opportunity to practice their yoga in tree poses at the end of the day! Their personalized tree came out spectacular!

For more pictures from the Tree-Tectives Adventure in Fall 2013 check out the Solar Youth Facebook Album here!

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Ivy Street Community Garden Greenhouse Project 2013!

The Ivy Street Community Garden Greenhouse Project is currently underway!!!  On Wednesday, October 16th the Ivy Street Community Garden, located at the corner of Ivy Street and Shelton Avenue in Newhallville, was honored by (former) Mayor John DeStefano, Jr., Erik Johnson from Livable City Initiative, and the Lincoln-Bassett Choir.

Photo from: "A Greenhouse Rises in Newhallville" by Thomas MacMillan (New Haven Independent)Photo from: "A Greenhouse Rises in Newhallville" by Thomas MacMillan (New Haven Independent)

For the past year, Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven has supported a resident-led initiative to bring a greenhouse to an active community garden located in Newhallville. Newhallville residents developed the plan with the aim of turning the garden into a thriving center for community involvement and education. The greenhouse will serve as a model facility where gardeners will be able to extend their growing season while both students and community residents will be invited to learn urban farming practices and sustaina ble energy techniques.

The Greenhouse project is a  collaborative effort involving local community gardeners, the City of New Haven’s Livable City Initiative, the New Haven Land Trust, Lincoln-Bassett School, Solar Youth, SEEDnh, Common Ground High School, and Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven.  The partners for the construction included United Way and PCL Walsh Construction Company for coordinating and providing the footing and foundation for the greenhouse.


Solar Youth will be a special part of this project! We will be able to teach youth hands on skills about gardening which would include the Ivy Street gardeners. Starting in March, Solar Youth will have a visible area in the garden and will support the educational needs that the youth will explore in the green house.


For more information on this project check out the article, "A Greenhouse Rises is Newhallville" writen by Thomas MacMillan of the New Haven Independent! 

2013 Fall Kick Off Hike!


What better way to kick-off a new and exciting Solar Youth season than going on a hike?! The kick off hike is a time for youth to get familiar with our program model, get to know our staff, and to have fun outside! Our Fall 2013 interns helped lead the way through West Rock’s exciting Blue Trail where we experienced scenic views and sang hiking songs together.

The highlight of this trip took place in the crevices of Judge’s Cave where Solar Youth hid from the cave monster: Gammy!

After a solid 3 miles of dedicated hiking, we made our way to the nearby baseball field for a parachute extravaganza and a competitive kick-ball game. Let’s just say the bus ride home was much quieter than the ride in.

Thank you to all the Solar Youth Interns who extended a helping hand and made the trip extra special for our youth. Overall, the hike was an opportunity for the staff, Interns, and the youth to bond with one another! Hiking together gave everyone the opportunity to connect and build relationships for a great start to the Fall 2013 Season. 

For more photos from our trip check out the full album on our facebook page HERE!

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Intern Retreat Fall 2013


What do you get when you add twenty interns, four educators, Noble View campground, and a whole bunch of crazy? The SY intern retreat of course! The last weekend in September became the dates in which interns and educators alike embarked on a crazy journey of learning, growing, and laughing.

The interns arrived after school to the Solar Youth office to pick up some necessary camping gear, including fleece jackets and pants, rain jackets and pants, and hiking boots.  All the gear was generously loaned to Solar Youth through the Youth Opportunities Program and Common Ground High School! After loading up the bus, Solar Youth Staff and Interns took off for the retreat at Noble View campground, located in Westfield, Massachusetts. Arriving later in the evening and setting up tents in the dark was not an easy task, but interns used their knowledge and teamwork to set up a campsite quickly.

Saturday consisted of learning new games, a four mile hike, and getting to know one another more. On the hike interns took charge of leading and navigating the group to new heights. For many, it was their first time ever leading a hike and their confidence soared as a result of getting to each new location. 

Saturday also held a special first for Solar Youth! A wedding! A bride and groom were exchanging vows at our same campsite and invited the entire group to enjoy a dance, and take a few pictures with the newlyweds! It was for sure one of the most interesting ways to introduce new faces to the Solar Youth community!

A new Intern to Solar Youth, Ceaser, stated “the Intern retreat was a camping experience that taught me about the values of living in the great outdoors”. Interns and educators each learned valuable lessons from the experience, and enjoyed spending so much time together away from the distractions of everyday life. 

Two of our Interns, David and Danny, brought along something extra on the trip, their tripods, cameras, and enthusiasm for photography.  Somewhere inbetween the long hours of a busy weekend these boys found time to examine the sky through their lenses.  Inbetween time, space, and light David caught a shooting star!

This is is what he wrote when he posted about it to Instagram:
"About a week ago, I went on a camping trip with @SolarYouth to Russell, Massachusetts. During the night time, you can see a beautiful sky filled with stars, it's unlike anything else. Of course I would have my camera with me, so I decided to do some long exposure photography with my bros Danny and Rigo. On a tripod, I directed my camera towards the sky. At 20 seconds, ISO 3200, F/5.6 I shot this image... although I still feel like I could have taken this image a bit better, I'm happy to say that I caught a shooting star. Not planning on catching a shooting star, I was excited and surprised to see the resulting image after waiting 20 seconds.#davedesign #shootingstar" David

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