Winters can be frigid in Minnesota, but Karl Erickson, the woodworking program manager at Elpis Enterprises (2161 University Ave.) can find ways to make the cold weather both fun and a learning experience.
Elpis has been providing internships for homeless youth in screen printing and woodworking since the late 1990s, and part of the woodworking training has been taking youth into the community and teaching children how to build birdhouses and birdfeeders.
As part of a new project called “Land of 10,000 Diverse 4th Grade Birdwatchers,” the building of birdfeeders has expanded this year.
The program was initiated by a grant from the Uptown VFW in Minneapolis to help 14 schools do the project at no cost. “Our interns go to the schools and help mentor and guide the kids through the building process,” Erickson said. “As of Feb. 8, we have visited 13 schools, and 518 students have built birdfeeders.”
The birdfeeders are built from reclaimed wood, according to Erickson, and the fourth graders also learn about the importance of birds in the environment and how to identify birds by their looks and sounds.
“We have over 50 schools that want this project to happen,” Erickson said. “We are looking for more schools and fourth grade teachers who are interested, and if they get on our wish list we will seek grants, funding and sponsorships.”
Also on the winter activities roster is ice fishing. Erickson, a former teacher at Higher Ground Academy before starting at Elpis this past September, said he has helped over 700 students at the school learn to ice fish over the years.
“We are hoping to help more schools become urban anglers,” he said. The Uptown VFW provided a grant for three schools to take ice fishing trips: Higher Ground Academy and Sejong Academy in St. Paul and Bultum Academy in Columbia Heights. The first two schools will fish on Como Lake, and Bultum Academy students will be on Silver Lake.
Police cadets from the St. Paul Police Activities League will assist kids at Como Lake, and military veteran volunteers will help the Bultum Academy students.
He said the ice fishing program is open to youth from fourth grade and up. They learn how to identify species, as well as fishing regulations and about cold weather conditions. “They are taught heater safety, hook safety and hole safety,” he said.
Erickson said with the ice fishing, he can rotate between 100 and 150 students per day, with one class every hour.
“I’m lucky Elpis allows me to branch out with these projects,” Erickson said. “Next year we are hoping the Elpis trainees will be able to help with the ice fishing.”
Any schools or educators interested in ice fishing or birdfeeder building for their students can contact Erickson at firstname.lastname@example.org
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