Clean Water Interns & Accessibility

Since 2016, our utility’s education team has partnered with the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust to lead the Clean Water Ambassador youth internship program. This summer the program returned as a hybrid experience, online learning mixed with in-person field trips, to learn about water systems, sustainability, watershed ecology, climate change and ways to take action in the community. Six interns from the 2019 intern group were rehired as college interns to help co-lead and mentor the high school aged youth who participated this summer.

Interns removing blackberries (invasive species) at White Center Heights Park
Interns removing blackberries (invasive species) at White Center Heights Park

A New Partnership is Formed

For the first time, the program partnered with Washington State Department of Services for the Blind (DSB) by supporting their Remote Internship Program for blind and low vision teens. Two youth joined the intern program, along with their job coach, Zachary Hegemann. Kristin Geary, Employment Coordinator with Washington Vocational Services and Janet George, Youth Services Specialist with DSB provided the necessary guidance to allow for a successful program.

Kristin Covey, King County’s program co-lead described the experience, “Since this was our first experience working with blind and visually impaired (BVI) individuals, DSB graciously answered our many questions and shared useful resources to help us make the program as accessible as possible for their youth”. The result: the program became more accessible for everyone. 

“Our biggest takeaway is realizing how easy it can be to remove some of the barriers that make internships and workplaces inaccessible to BVI students,” explained Siena Ezekiel, King County program co-lead. “We learned how to make Word documents accessible for screen readers; we sent worksheets and activities to the BVI interns ahead of time so they could complete them prior to class; and we verbally described images or photos on PowerPoint presentations.”

These small efforts made the program accessible to two individuals who showed up every day eager to learn and who enriched the program by being part of it.

A New Cohort of Ambassadors

The Clean Water Ambassador program focuses on recruiting participants from schools and organizations serving youth who are underrepresented in environmental careers. This resulted in 50 youth registering for the program, with 50 percent from low-income schools and 75 percent Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) students. Even while people are experiencing “zoom fatigue”, approximately 35-40 youth joined every online session.

Interns discussing environmental monitoring at Mini Mart City

Here’s what the youth participants had to say about their program experience:

“From learning about salmon rivers to discussing climate action, the Clean Water Ambassadorship Program has expanded my knowledge of our local environment and my place in it. I signed up to gain a clearer picture of my career path, and I left with that and so much more. This program has reinforced my passion for the natural world and has given me hope for the future of sustainability.”

“This program allows you to connect with other organizations and expand your interest and knowledge quickly. A well-rounded program to develop public speaking, volunteer work, solution-based, community-focused, and individual impacts.”

“The program strengthened my passion for advocating and educating others on social justice issues, specifically climate change. In the past I was more focused on other issues such as women’s rights, etc. but being in this program, I want to dedicate more of my time and energy to the climate as well.”

Kristin Geary from Washington Vocational Services summarized it best, “We believe this partnership has benefited everyone involved. We had the pleasure to work with a wonderful program and we were able to raise [environmental] awareness for students who are blind and visually impaired.”  

If your organization is interested in partnering with Washington State Department of Services for the Blind, please contact Janet George at janet.george@dsb.wa.gov.

Visit Water Education for more information about King County’s regional wastewater utility and our education programs.

Screenshot of Clean Water interns holding up pieces of paper with words that show what actions they are committed to taking after the program ends
Interns share their commitments to take action during the final online meeting

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