The sun was out and the temperature was quickly rising. Groups of children in matching green t-shirts squirmed in their seats as camp counselors smeared sunscreen and led games to keep them occupied. Familiar camp songs drifted across Seward Park flooding my mind with memories of my own summer camp experiences in South Carolina. We were all eagerly awaiting the arrival of the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell.
The event, held at Seward Park, was the kick off for the Let’s Move! Outside initiative in Seattle. The initiative, started by First Lady Michelle Obama, is led by the Department of the Interior in partnership with the YMCA and the National League of Cities. It encourages young people to get outside by fostering meaningful connections to nature through four pillars: play, learn, serve, and work. Seattle was the 20th stop on the nationwide tour and also happens to be the place Secretary Jewell calls home. She took time out of her vacation with her family to come to this event.
As the amphitheater began to fill, the other IMBY interns were continually pointing out familiar faces in the Seattle environmental conservation scene. I am a recent Seattle transplant so I didn’t recognize many faces, but polos with familiar logos kept popping up. As my fellow interns continued to fan-girl over the big-wigs from the Seattle conservation and youth engagement organizations it was hard not to get excited.
“There she is, in the purple shirt”, our lead ranger pointed across the field as Secretary Jewell walked towards us flanked by two secret service agents surreptitiously dressed in khakis and short-sleeved button downs. I didn’t realize the secret service was so casual. If you looked close enough, you could still see their earpieces poking out of their shirts. I watched as she introduced herself not only to the event organizers but also to the cameramen hauling heavy equipment on a hot day.
The event was opened by a representative from EarthCorps, who was hosting the event, followed by speeches from Mayor Ed Murray, the Present/CEO of the Greater Seattle YMCA, Bob Gilbertson, and Secretary Jewell. They kept them short, in an attempt to hold the attention of the over 150 kids both in the amphitheater and on the stage. Once the speeches wrapped up, the kids dispersed to various locations where EarthCorps staff and volunteers facilitated mulch spreading—putting the crowd of kids to work. Secretary Jewell, Mayor Murray, and Bob Gilbertson from the YMCA weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. They joined a group of kids, all holding hands in a circle, as an EarthCorps member explained the need for gloves and how to scoop mulch into a bucket and pass it down the line, fireman style. It was sort of surreal to watch the mayor of Seattle and the Secretary of the Interior scoop mulch into a bucket while hordes of people were essentially crawling through the bushes to snap photographs. One little girl scolded the mayor for not wearing gloves, closely following the instructions of her EarthCorps guide.
We hung around, hoping to find a moment where we could meet Secretary Jewell. One of our interns finally mustered the courage to say hello to the Secretary’s senior advisor, David Joya. He had lived in Seattle for a while and we bonded over the beauty of Discovery Park and he even whipped out his iPhone to show us a stunning panoramic photo he had taken the other night. We chatted with him about IMBY and then he asked if we would like to meet the Secretary. We all chirped “yes”, as a mixture of excitement and nerves washed over me. It’s exciting to meet anyone who is “famous”. But, when “famous” means a powerful woman who passionately fights for her beliefs, it’s even more exciting. She is also technically my boss’s boss’s boss’s boss’s boss’s boss. And her boss is the president.
Secretary Jewell finished hauling mulch with the kids and walked over to us with David at her side. We each shook her hand and introduced ourselves, then I gave her our quick elevator speech describing our program. Thankfully I’ve said it so many times that my brain can go blank and magically the correct words still seem to come out of my mouth. Our ranger gave me a thumbs up from over the Secretary’s shoulder. She then took the time to ask each and every one of us where we were from and what we were studying. Obviously it’s part of her job to meet students and volunteers, but I appreciated being given the time none the less. After introductions were finished she suggested we stand in front of some foliage for our photo. The woman knows how to stage a great photo.
After our meeting she left with her advisers and secret service agents, walking back across the park and talking. I imagined the conversation to be about something immensely important, but more likely it was about something mundane like what they were having for lunch. Secretary Jewell was on vacation after all. We left too. We had another event to attend that night, Jamfest at the Wing Luke Museum in the International District. Riding the high from the morning we ate tasty food, met new people, built park dioramas with kids, and danced into the night.
–Molly Winslow, IMBY Community Outreach Mentor