MERIDEN — Zari Nia Jelks-Heron, a senior at Maloney High School, plans to attend a four-year college. She became involved in the Sustainable Meriden Internship Program as a way to make community connections and help the city.
Sustainable Meriden is a student-led internship program that engages youth in the community as part of achieving sustainability goals within the city. These goals are reached by contributing to environmental change in order to encourage economic growth, while keeping Meriden clean and inspiring youth to explore roles in government.
Jelks-Heron has been involved since the start of the program. She heard about it from a friend and joined. The experience has helped her be more committed to the community.
She recalled one of her favorite initiatives was the trash co-collection project, part a pilot program designed to make people more mindful of what they throw away.
“The biggest thing I learned is how the city is being run, how much time and effort and planning it takes to do an event,” she said. “I learned how to make connections with different people in our community. Those are connections I have been able to take with me because now these are people I can reach out to.”
High School juniors and seniors are encouraged to participate in the Sustainable Meriden Internship program. This year, there are eight seniors participating. When students enter the program they are given a mentor. Each month, students must complete between 8 and 10 hours of service, and receive a stipend. Students can also recruit volunteers during their internship.
“I feel like the biggest thing you can learn is time management and how to be able to get the confidence to do anything,” Jelks-Heron said.
Sustainable Meriden Advisor Deanell Fraser said the program is beneficial for students since they can learn about government and participate in projects to help the city.
Projects are year-round. Students may come up with their own as well. Previous projects include art installations, electronic recycling events, and volunteering for public works week, including the truck parade.
“They are working on larger projects such as designing a skate park. Most recently what they've been involved in is the pilot program for co-collection, which is big because Meriden is the first one to start something like this,” Fraser said.
Students interested in the program can join in the fall.
For more information go to www.meridenct.gov/government/departments/public-works/sustainable-meriden-internship-program.
For more on the statewide Sustainable CT project go to https://sustainablect.org/.