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LEAF Program Contrasts City Lights to Rural Landscapes

Breanna Descourouez
Out at The Nature Conservancy's Emiquon Preserve, the butterflies aren't afraid to land on you.

Six girls from the Los Angeles Environmental Charter High School spent the month of July at a Nature Conservancy site just outside of Lewistown, Illinois.   The girls helped clean up the Emiquon Preserve while learning everything they could about the great outdoors.

Credit Breanna Descourouez
The girls stretching before starting their day.

  The internship program is called Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future, or LEAF.  Therran Hobson, the Nature Conservancy’s restoration manager, said this was the first time in the program's 22 year history in which all the participants are girls.  

Throughout the month, Hobson taught the girls everything he could to prepare them for a future in environmental studies. 

LA is known for its vibrant city lifestyle. For these girls, that is home. But when they got the chance to step away into a rural setting, they were surprised by what they discovered about Illinois.

Credit Breanna Descourouez
No matter the task, Therran Hobson turns it into a learning experience for the interns.

TyraToler noticed the water.

“We have no water, and you guys have a lot. The ponds are actually filled up and the waterfall at Starved Rock is what an actual waterfall is. In LA, they’re not the same,” said Toler when describing a trip they took to the state park.

Toler wants to be a marine biologist, which explains her fascination with water.

Credit Breanna Descourouez
The LEAF Program girls picking up trash on one of the nature conservancy's side roads.

“LA is definitely beautiful but I feel like everybody took the beautiful out of LA by building stuff,” Toler said while picking up trash on one of the nature conservancy’s side roads.

Fellow student Sonia Estrada said she started out hating the outdoors, but found a love for it as she got older. Estrada noticed the differences in scenery between southern California and western Illinois, and she noticed the differences in people. 

“Illinois is a very quiet but very family oriented location. Like we’ve come in contact with so many amazing people and they’re so nice. LA is very vibrant and focuses a lot on stuff that really isn’t important, where in Illinois, it’s important,” said Estrada.

Credit Breanna Descourouez
Therran Hobson (left), Vanesa Iniguez (middle) and Tyra Toler (right) picking up trash on the preserve.

Estrada is interested in journalism and hopes to use it to raise awareness about environmental problems.

The internship program is scheduled to be held again next year so more students can learn valuable skills and the knowledge needed to pursue a career in environmental studies.