Last updated: August 30, 2016
It all started when Eli MacDonald recognized the need for a community initiative that would revitalize Syracuse, New York. With high poverty rates and low education scores, MacDonald wanted to work with the youth in his community to teach them life skills. The group became known as the Onondaga Earth Corps in 2005. Now, 12 years later, MacDonald is still working with youth, but on a much larger scale. What started as a small community group, is now part of a national partnership between the Corps Network and The National Trust with the mission to preserve our historical landmarks.
"I never thought it would last so long and watching it grow for twelve years with more youth and more people in the community getting involved has been amazing," said MacDonald.
The Corps Network is a national collective of over 130 conservation organizations in the country. They partnered with the National Trust in 2014 with a mission to train the next generation of preservation professionals, these projects would be called Hope Crews. Pulling from all of their different groups, the Corps Network asked Onondaga to do a Crew project at Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Site.
NPS Photo - from left to right: Gregory Michel, Josh Turnquest, Rashad Ingram, Eli MacDonald, Devontae Randall, Larry Turk, and Tom Ballos
"This is great work for our team, they are learning masonry, carpentry, and preservation all in one project," said Greg Michel.
The project started in July and will run through the end of September. The goal is to restore the exterior of the playhouse. This involves stripping old paint and giving it a fresh coat, revitalizing the stone patio and chimney, replacing the windows and window frames, and rebuilding any rotted areas on the structure.
NPS Photo - Devontae Randall
"Before I came out here, I didn't know anything about historical preservation," said Rashad Ingram. "But after learning about the history of this place and what our ancestors did for us, I want to keep preservation going to show younger people why this is so important; we are a part of history."
Josh Turnquest, a senior at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, was surprised to learn about the history, as well. "I had no idea Eleanor Roosevelt was such a huge advocate for civil rights. She was adamant when others weren't, talking to world leaders and getting people to see what was happening… As a board member of the NAACP, I found that to be pretty cool."
For Devontae Randall, this project really comes full circle for him. "This project will help bring more people to this site to learn about the history and educate kids. They will learn about Val-Kill Industries, which in a way, is a lot like what the Earth Corps is doing, teaching young people how to restore these places and rebuild."
NPS Photo - Josh Turnquest (left) and Rashad Ingram (right)
Michel says there is already talk of another project at our park next year and that the team is very excited to do more work like this. To read more about the Onondaga Earth Corps, check out their website.
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