Skip to comments.Hug a Logger, Not a Tree
Posted on 05/23/2002 6:44:02 PM PDT by ItsBacon
The idea first hit Bruce Vincent as he was walking out of a Montana middle school in 1997.
Mr. Vincent, president of the League of Rural Voters, had just finished giving a talk to a class about logging, forestry, and the possibilities for smart, long-term use of our natural resources. As he was leaving, a teacher thanked him and explained that the next day the class would be hearing from an environmentalist, who would arrange for them to adopt a wolf.
"Right there, I wondered if everything I'd told those kids was out the window," said Mr. Vincent. "If they were told that logging would hurt Alfred the Wolf, they'd forget everything I said." Still, it got Mr. Vincent thinking. What could he bring to class that could possibly rival charismatic megafauna? "Then it hit me," he says, "The only thing even more interesting than an animal is a human."
That brainstorm led to one of the more charming school initiatives in years, thanks to Mr. Vincent and generous sponsors and volunteers. When school revs up this fall, 125 middle school classrooms--in cities from Los Angeles to New York--will be adopting a logger, a fisherman, a miner, a farmer or a rancher as their very own for the year. The 5,000 urban kids in the program will get videos, letters, photo albums, and e-mail from their newfound friend. And at least once a year the adoptee will visit the school to talk, answer questions, and let kids try on the waders, mining hats, and caulked boots of their trade.
Mr. Vincent calls the program "Provider Pals," though rural communities might simply call it a chance to set the record straight. Today, some 80% of Americans live in urban areas, and many schools have been hijacked by green agendas. Rural communities, which often find their livelihoods wrecked by one-sided environmentalism, are beginning to realize just how important it is to get the real story out.
"This is a chance to explain to kids where they get their stuff from--their food, clothes-- and to meet the people who actually look after the environment. Then they can make informed decisions," says Mike Poulson, a farmer in Washington state who was adopted in the pilot program.
Not that the program is a one-way street. The adoptees also get a dose of urban reality. "It was a real learning experience," says Jerry Shill, president of the North Carolina Fisheries Association, who visited a Washington, D.C., school. And the program will also send rural students to visit their urban peers for a week, and vice-versa.
An intriguing aspect of the program is its major sponsor: Ford. The auto maker had suffered some negative publicity last year after its chief executive, William Clay Ford Jr., addressed a Greenpeace convention and talked up global warming. Some rural communities saw this as pandering to greens, and began boycotting Ford products.
But these days, Ford seems to be strongly reaffirming a longtime commitment to rural communities, such as a 50-year partnership with Future Farmers of America. It is giving the Provider Pals program a whopping $1.5 million over three years. And last month it rolled out a new initiative called the Ford Country Scholars Program, which will give $5,000 scholarships to Western high school kids who go to school to prepare for careers in a rural community.
Provider Pals already seems to be working. Since 1998 Mr. Vincent has conducted pilot programs in a dozen schools in Montana, as well as an inner-city school called Hine Junior High School, in Washington, D.C. Says Mr. Poulson of the D.C. school: "You could tell we'd made an impact when, walking in the next year, having only spent an hour with each class, they remembered us."
And no wonder. Kevin Smith, a logger from Virginia, hauled a log up to Washington and cut it up for the kids. Slicing a "cookie" off the end, he showed the students how they could map the history of the tree; the class got to keep it as a souvenir. Jim Tenney, a rancher from Arizona, had the kids dress in cowboy clothes and practice roping a plastic cow head. And a woman from the National Mining Association helped the kids pan for gold.
Teachers, too, are getting in on the act. When the Providers brought in work gear for the kids to try on, Mr. Poulson said they planned to take pictures of just a couple of kids dressed up. But a lot of kids wanted their pictures taken...as did teachers.
For Mr. Vincent, the program has personal meaning. His family has lived in Montana since 1904; his father is a logger. In third grade, his parents were brought into the local school and told if would be their "fault" if their son also grew up to work in the forest. In fact, the younger Mr. Vincent went to college for a civil engineering degree, and then came back to Montana to do exactly that. "Because I wanted to. Because this country was built by such hardworking people. I'd like America to meet this culture, which is honorable and proud of its heritage, and which is hopeful of its future." Thanks to Provider Pals, America will.
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