Grooming leaders to protect N.J.'s environment

TRENTON The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection is seeking 20 recruits for its 2016 class of AmeriCorps New Jersey Watershed Ambassadors, an annual program that helps prepare young people to be future environmental leaders.

Program coordinators are accepting applications through Aug. 31, officials said.

The state has 20 watershed management areas where an ambassador can be placed. These host agencies include watershed associations, soil conservation districts, sewerage authorities, and county agencies.

"This excellent program helps identify New Jersey's future environmental leaders and develops their stewardship for our resources," DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said.

"These leaders of tomorrow will be entrusted with the task of protecting New Jersey's environment, its air and water, natural and historic resources, long after we are gone," he said.

Ambassadors work with the public to improve the quality of New Jersey's waterways, foster community-based environmental activities, and empower state residents to make informed decisions about their watersheds.

"What is impressive about the young people who participate in the AmeriCorps New Jersey Watershed Ambassadors Program is their willingness to pitch in and motivate the public to get involved in cleaning up their local waters," said Pat Gardner, director of the DEP's Division of Water Monitoring and Standards, which oversees the program.

Watershed ambassadors say the program has provided them beneficial training and opportunities, and increased their respect for the environment.

Samantha Wolfe, a graduate of Kalamazoo College in Michigan who also studied in Beijing, was an ambassador in the Assiscunk, Crosswicks and Doctors Creek watersheds. This 253-square-mile area includes 26 municipalities spanning Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth, and Ocean Counties.

"I hosted a volunteer monitoring training at the Tulpehaking Nature Center [in Trenton], with eight volunteers," she said. "We spent many hours together."

Volunteer work has long been a staple for Jordan Foreman, who worked in the Central Delaware River watershed, but the Rutgers graduate said the ambassador program gave him a new perspective.

"This experience was different because I realized I was also empowering others," said Foreman, who was recently nominated by DEP staff for an Excellence in AmeriCorps Service Award.

The DEP began hosting the federal AmeriCorps program in 2000. AmeriCorps is a national service initiative that began in 1993 and is also known as the domestic Peace Corps. Since its inception, more than 820,000 men and women have taken the AmeriCorps pledge, serving more than one billion hours and improving the lives of countless Americans.

The organization recently announced grants for programs across the country. New Jersey's Watershed Ambassadors Program will receive $260,000 in federal funding for 2016.

Ambassadors are required to complete 1,700 hours of service over 10 or 11 months, officials said. Compensation includes a pretax monthly stipend of $1,195; eligibility for health insurance benefits while serving as an ambassador; subsidized child care, if qualified; deferment of qualified student loans during service; and extensive training throughout the program year.

In addition, members are eligible to receive an education award of $5,730 following the successful completion of the program.

Applicants for the 2015-2016 program year should submit their application with references, resume and cover letter by Aug. 29 at goo.gl/LtTwJ3 or by visiting: www.state.nj.us/dep/wms/bears/americorps.htm.

For more information, call Kathy Giordano, program manager, or Patricia Ingelido, supervisor, at 609-633-1441.

- Edward Colimore

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