National parks connect us to the world of our history and our past…[they] keep us connected to our heritage.” — Mariama Dabo
Mariama Dabo, shown here, is a fifth grader at Hawk Meadow Montessori in Poughkeepsie. She researched and created the newest Junior Ranger activity book for the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site (ELRO).
Val-Kill, as the historic site is known, encompasses the house and grounds of activist, United Nations delegate, and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Val-Kill is the home that belonged fully to Eleanor and where she was able to become her whole self.
To honor Mariama’s dedication to our national parks and Eleanor Roosevelt’s legacy, we will introduce the new activity book at a special event on Sunday, December 11, from 1-4 pm. Visitors can tour the house and grounds, complete Junior Ranger activities, and do a craft project. At 2:30 there will be a ceremony: Mariama will receive the first badge and then lead others who have completed their Junior Ranger booklet in the pledge to earn their badges as well.
Val-Kill is where I used to find myself and grow. At Val-Kill I emerged as an individual. — Eleanor Roosevelt
Eleanor started her lifelong fight for social justice at Val-Kill. With the help of Nancy Cook, Marion Dickerman, and Caroline O’ Day, she developed Val-Kill Industries, a furniture making business designed to employ young men, supplement the income of farm families, and sustain a balance between rural agriculture and urban industry. ELRO is the only national park dedicated to a first lady and the only property in the mid-Hudson Valley listed on the National Register of Historic Places with an identified LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) story.
Mariama, a national park and Junior Ranger enthusiast, was inspired to visit Val-Kill because she loves Eleanor and how “she stood up for what she believed in” despite barriers that made it difficult for women of Eleanor’s era to pursue many jobs and tasks. Having completed Junior Ranger activities at other parks — and seeing a need here — Mariama decided to create her own booklet so that others would be able to experience the Junior Ranger program at ELRO.
The project was completed for a class assignment, and Mariama’s research included reading and multiple park visits where she toured the house and talked with rangers. Sometimes she used the internet to look for more information. Even though she completed the book last year, Mariama still visits the grounds regularly to walk where Eleanor herself found solace. Val-Kill helps her feel connected to nature although she prefers not to run into snakes.
Having visited many national parks, it was difficult to pick just one favorite. However, Mariama feels especially close to nature when visiting Muir Woods National Monument in San Francisco. She tells about a “cool” ranger who presented her with the Junior Ranger badge in front of the sign at the entrance underneath the trees. Mariama looks up to John Muir as an important part of the history of national parks and their meaning.
When not visiting national parks, Mariama hoop dances, plays soccer and guitar, and swims for Junior Olympics. In school she enjoys math class partly because her mom is a math teacher. We are extremely excited to present this booklet as another way for young people to experience the park. ELRO received funding from the National Park Foundation to share the activity booklet with visitors.
Every Kid in a Park helps fourth graders and their families access and enjoy public lands by providing a free pass valid through the end of August 2017. Additionally, limited transportation funds are available for fourth graders; interested teachers or youth leaders may contact me at email@example.com for details. Other classes and youth groups may apply for matching funds through the Explore Award program. To learn more about the park, visit www.nps.gov/elro.
Kayla is an educator at Roosevelt-Vanderbilt-Van Buren National Historic Sites.