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9/9/2013 - Mayor Finch celebrates city’s teen wildlife ambassadors
Mayor Bill Finch congratulated a team of Bridgeport high school students at Beardsley Park on Sept. 5 for their 10 months of service to the city and its wildlife.

The teens are the first members of the WildLife Guards, a program launched in 2012 by Audubon Connecticut in partnership with the Student Conservation Association (SCA), Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo and the city of Bridgeport.

The program seeks to raise public awareness about beach nesting birds while providing teens with job skills, science education and field experience. This summer, the guards spent three days each week at Pleasure Beach and Long Beach West in Stratford monitoring birds and showing beach-goers how to successfully co-exist with wildlife.

“This innovative program is giving Bridgeport high school students direct job experience and skills that will benefit them throughout their lives,” said Finch who joined the group back in May to remove overgrown vegetation around the Conservation Pond in Beardsley Park. “The WildLife Guards are also great role models for younger students, teaching them about birds, habitats and how people can successfully share the shores with wildlife.

“The program highlights two great strengths of our community — the rare natural treasures found here in our city and the strong commitment of our younger citizens to improving and protecting Bridgeport’s natural areas for people and for wildlife,” he said.

“Audubon is thrilled to partner with the city of Bridgeport, SCA and Beardsley Zoo in this effort,” said Corrie Folsom-O’Keefe, Audubon’s Important Bird Area program coordinator and director of the WildLife Guards program. “What the guards have accomplished is incredible. Not only did they learn about local shorebirds and the importance of wildlife conservation, but they learned life skills — how to teach, how to speak in public, how to work as a team and how to lead. We hope these skills that will carry them well beyond this experience to become part of the next generation of conservation champions.”

“Through this experience, the guards have gained a wealth of job skills, which they will be able to use in their future careers, from learning the appropriate content for emails and web pages, to developing teaching skills and gaining proficiency in the biological sciences,” said Khadija Bshara, SCA’s Connecticut Community Program coordinator. “The guards also visited the University of Bridgeport, Fairfield University and Sacred Heart University this summer to explore different career options and learn about applying to college.

“These teens are terrific ambassadors for beach nesting birds such as piping plovers, least terns and American oystercatchers,” Folsom-O’Keefe said. “Their example shows how wildlife conservation can provide both educational and job opportunities for young people.”

Mayor Bill Finch is presented with a gift from the members of the Bridgeport WildLife Guards during a meet and greet in Beardsley Park on Sept. 5.

For more photos, check out Mayor Finch's Facebook page.