By NICOLE DAO
ANNAPOLIS (December 2, 2010)As a young girl, Carmera Thomas spent her summers swimming in the Severn River and eating fresh blue crabs. Now, the deteriorating health of the Chesapeake Bay has spurred her to take action.
Thomas joined the Chesapeake Conservation Corps in hopes of restoring the bay back to what it once was, so that future generations may have those same experiences.
The Chesapeake Bay Trust started the Chesapeake Conservation Corps to provide young adults with service opportunities and green job training through environmental and energy conservation projects.
Gov. Martin O'Malley signed the program into law earlier this year as part of President Obama's Chesapeake Bay Executive Order, a plan to restore and protect the bay and its watershed.
The program partners Thomas, along with 15 other adults between the ages of 18 and 25, with one of 16 organizations statewide for a year. The organizations range from the state's Department of Natural Resources to non-profits like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which Thomas will be working with.
"We tried to match as best we could the interests of the volunteers with the needs of the host organizations," said Allen Hance, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Trust.
While the program is full-time volunteer work, each corps member will receive a $16,000 stipend plus health benefits and travel costs.
Volunteers will work on energy efficiency programs, water quality monitoring, reforestation, job training and other projects, Hance said.
"It's a great opportunity to infuse youthful energy into key organizations across the state that is really going to expand the ability of those organizations to do their work," Hance added.
Thomas' work with the foundation will involve restoration work and other projects, said Marcy Damon, the grassroots restoration coordinator of the Bay Foundation.
"Her main interest is in restoration so this (program) will give her a real-life outdoor restoration experience," Damon said.
Thomas, 22, of Glen Burnie, said her interest in the environment began in a high school biology class, which later translated into her major in college. In the future, she hopes to earn a master's degree in environmental science.
Some of Thomas' projects focus on oyster restoration, including oyster gardening workshops, reef ball construction, and transporting oysters onto sanctuaries. She will also be working with the foundation's Farm Stewardship Program planting trees as stream buffers in Frederick and Washington counties.
Along with these projects, the foundation will also help Thomas with job hunting.
"We will also be helping Carmera at the end of her year-long tenure here to network to see what other job possibilities there might be," Damon said.
Damon said the program will expose volunteers to what's going on in the bay, and as a result, the volunteers will help educate the public.
"It's a leadership development program, and so we want, through their exposure to this set of very high-quality organizations, to learn about environmental leadership," Hance said.
Thomas feels it is important to educate citizens about the bay's issues, especially today's youth. She hopes younger generations will teach their parents about the importance of restoring the bay.
More than two weeks into the program, Thomas said she is enjoying the hands-on work.
So far she has helped to winterize crops at Clagett Farm in Upper Marlboro and painted boats at the foundation's Oyster Restoration Center in Shady Side.
"I'm interested in saving the planet," Thomas said. "That's really corny, but I think it's cool to be a part of preserving something that people are going to be experiencing the rest of their lives."