Where else can you spend one-on-one time with a bald eagle, learn how to fix a flat on your bike, and use a blowtorch all in the same week? Ben, Evelysse and Leo share a few “firsts” on work program.
One of the more surreal experiences I have had at Chewonki so far was working in our Outreach Lab for work program. I spent a large part of the afternoon cleaning the cages of some of the largest and most rare birds in the country. There was nothing too extraordinary about actually cleaning the birds’ living spaces, except perhaps working around the cut open carcasses set out for that day’s lunch. What stuck with me was the aura of power that each bird (except maybe the smallest of the owls) exuded as I worked in their living space.
The Bald Eagle, Wocawson, whose right wing was once shot, was intensely watchful of me as I made my way around her space. She let out loud, high-pitched screeches when I wandered too close to her, and occasionally followed me around the large cage as I worked. As soon as I had finished raking a pile of feathers, pine needles and other undesirable items, Wocawson charged at me from out of nowhere and opened her wings as wide as she could spread them, despite her permanently crippled wing. Thankfully all she wanted to do was get me away from the raked up pile so she could mess it up and jump around in it for a little while. Such things, I have been told, are her main source of entertainment.
– Ben Bristol, Rocky Hill NJ
I have enjoyed the few opportunities I have had in my life to ride a bike, but when you grow up in New York City, like me, riding a bike is not imperative. Bike riding has been a shrouded cloud of mystery that I have always wanted to venture into. I was pretty excited to find out that I was signed up to fix flat tires on Chewonki bikes during my first work program. I don’t know about you, but fixing a flat tire sounded like a daunting task to me. I love conquering daunting tasks, so I went to work program ready to learn and found Chewonki’s own bike master, Peter Sniffen, and my lovely advisor, Steve Kerchner, ready to teach.
I soon discovered that fixing a flat tire was as wonderful as I had imagined. My partner, Nick, and I worked together to change the tires on several bikes. While I learned about the parts of the bike, Nick screwed on parts that I unknowingly removed from one of the bikes. This may sound like a failed first attempt, but that’s the beauty of Chewonki, you get to try again and learn from each other. After some initial difficulty and plenty of help from the group, I successfully fixed a tire and got to bask in the glory ride on a newly repaired bike back to the bike shed. I learned an extremely valuable skill and I will not have to worry about having to turn back en route to Shaws from now on!
– Evelysse Vargas, Bronx NY
One pound of Copper. Three dollars. The basis for my first work program. My first thought when I saw that I was scheduled to help maintenance sort scrap metal for work program was, “that’s going to be boring.” By the end of the afternoon I had learned how to safely operate a blowtorch to unsolder metal piping and convert old scrap metal into money that supports Chewonki scholarships.
I first took thickly wrapped copper wire that was salvaged from telephone poles and used a utility knife to strip the dense rubber that encased the wire. Then I threw on a pair of heavy leather gloves, safety glasses, and grabbed a blowtorch. I used the blowtorch to unsolder and separate different types of metals that once made up some of Chewonki’s piping systems. It was easily the coolest thing I’ve done here so far, and that’s saying a lot. I eagerly look forward to next week’s work program when I will be one of the first students to use a chainsaw.
– Leo Turpan, East Hampton NY