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“Look, it’s allergies!”

Hello! I’m Rachel, a Social Work Intern with Refugee Education & Adventure Challenge (REACH) during the summer of 2023. I first heard of REACH through my former job as a Youth Services Coordinator at a local refugee resettlement agency. My supervisor ended his description of the organization with, “Isn’t that so cool?” I couldn’t help but agree. As a result, I was curious to learn more about REACH. So, when I had the chance to find a summer internship, I emailed REACH’s Executive Director Shana Wills first.

REACH Summer Adventure Camp 2023 participants work on their algae nets.

As a lover of art and hands-on science, I was also excited to be tasked with coordinating REACH’s partnership with Dr. Sarah Zhou Rosengard from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). Sarah is an oceanographer, sustainability advocate, and Assistant Professor of environmental chemistry who partnered with REACH this summer for a week of nature experiments. She and her university students creatively combined art and science in a unique set of activities during our second week of Summer Adventure Camp. Each day, Sarah's team helped to facilitate DIY projects that engaged the youth participants in an even deeper understanding of the ecosystems they were learning about through REACH.

On Monday, near a pond at the Rolling Knolls Forest Preserve in Elgin, REACH youth sewed cheese cloths around mason jar lids to create algae-catching nets, while another group beaded string through jar lids to make algae-level testing tools. Midweek, at Skokie Lagoons in Winnetka, the youth learned about the Great Lakes and saw photos of several types of algae at a microscopic level. A group of younger participants painted the algae testing tools and practiced with them in the nearby lagoon while other youths collected algae in their nets and looked at the specimens under portable microscopes. On the final day near a lagoon at Washington Park in Hyde Park, Sarah and her students led the REACH youth in making their own cyanotypes. Using algae they previously collected at Skokie Lagoons and plants they gathered near Washington Lagoon, the youth created beautiful layouts on their blank photo papers. Just ten minutes later, after a quick dip in water, amazing art pieces emerged!

We ended the last day of Summer Adventure Camp Week Two with a nature scavenger hunt, meandering through the native prairie, wetland, and aquatic habitats of the Washington Park Natural Area. While searching for clues, a REACH participant in my group pointed out algae at every turn, exclaiming: “Look, it’s allergies!” Running from place to place, spotting different animals and plants, he and the others yelled: “Turtle! Yellow flower! Singing bird! Frog! Acorn! Fish!” As we headed back towards the bus, the boy quietly asked me if he could just stay in the park, remarking, “It’s so peaceful here.”

Last Saturday, over Labor Day weekend, we had the chance to see Sarah and some of her team members again at REACH's end-of-summer family picnic and awards ceremony in Warren Park. Under a gallery of the cyanotype masterpieces, which were hanging from two large trees, and with some guidance from me and Sarah, several young people drew pictures of the places they had been and the waters they investigated during their journeys with REACH this summer. It was a very special way to finish up my internship.

Hanging cyanotype masterpieces at the REACH End-of-Summer Family Picnic.

Thanks to Dr. Rosengard and her crew of university students including Daniel Jefferson Tamba, David Li, Val Thompson, and Zach Sabitt for spending time with us this summer!

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