Sep 01, 2021

Teen Scene

By Lori Draz and Reagan Volk

Welcome to Teen Scene. This month’s author is 16-year-old Reagan Volk, of Rumson, a junior at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School. As summer turns to fall, one of nature’s grandest spectacles takes place: the nearly 3,000-mile migration of the monarch butterflies. Sadly, what were once clouds of these iconic orange and black butterflies have dwindled. The monarch butterfly is an endangered species due to the loss of milkweed plants, their only breeding and food source. Reagan stood up to become an advocate and educator for these delicate beauties, earning her Girl Scout Gold Award for her efforts. She continues handing out free packets of milkweed seeds to those willing to plant them and preserve their habitat. In doing so, she has learned that chasing your passion requires effort, commitment and community. Here is Reagan’s story.

Moments in life like standing beneath the expansive night sky, driving through a bustling city or attending a roaring concert can put the universe into perspective. As humans, we feel awed, miniscule and insignificant when we think about how big the world is. But that should never stop you from sparking changes in your life and pursuing the issues you care about.

As a child, I was terrified when I watched nature documentaries and read statistics about endangered species. Fear can make you stop, but don’t. My Girl Scout troop leader asked me if I planned on achieving my Gold Award. It’s the highest achievement within the Girl Scouts of the USA earned by only 5.4 percent of eligible Senior and Ambassador Girl Scouts. I wanted to be one of them, and that meant breaking away from comfortable inactivity to actively engaging in my conservation journey. 

I already knew I wanted to work on the plight of the monarch butterfly. I immediately delved into research. I was shocked to learn that, according to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Biological Conservation, the monarch population declined by a staggering 97 percent in just three decades due to overuse of herbicides and pesticides. 

Closing my laptop, I wondered if my mission was hopeless. Perhaps the monarchs’ fate was inevitable, and educating my local community about their decline was a fool’s errand. However, I reminded myself that change often takes time and that action can have a snowball effect with the right passion. My mission was nothing on its own – I had to turn to my community to propel it.

I named my project “Mission Milkweed” since milkweed is the only plant female monarchs can lay their eggs on and the sole food source for monarch caterpillars. Milkweed flowers also provide nectar for monarchs in their final stage of life. Everyone can and should plant milkweed, but how? 

I churned out hundreds of brochures explaining the significance of this crucial flower and stapled one packet of milkweed seeds to each. Then, I emailed the Parks and Recreation Departments of my surrounding towns to set up brochure boxes at the parks. Soon my mom was driving me in circles around Rumson, Fair Haven and beyond every week to ensure the brochures were in stock for my community members. 

I have been amazed at the amount of support this project has received. Each person and every organization I turned to for help rose to the occasion. When I asked Rumson’s Park and Recreation Department if I could paint a butterfly bench at Riverside Park to raise awareness, my idea was facilitated and celebrated. Local organizations, including the Oceanic Free Library and Sickles Farmers Market, also joined me in the effort to educate our community about Mission Milkweed by distributing information and seeds. Clean Ocean Action invited me to host a Mission Milkweed table at its annual Eco-Fest. And of course, the Girl Scouts of the Jersey Shore has helped me every step of the way. 

Mission Milkweed is a prime example of how a community can unite over a common goal, no matter how insurmountable the mission may seem. I hope to keep expanding as I continue my work in conservation. I hope to major in environmental science in college, and it feels so rewarding knowing that this experience will influence my future efforts in such an increasingly vital field – all this, thanks to the community. 

Although I was officially awarded my Gold Award in June, Mission Milkweed will go on. I also plan on always being a part this amazing Girl Scout organization and its rich and powerful history in environmental stewardship. Girl Scout founder Juliette Gordon Low was famous for inspiring young women to address far-reaching issues, especially those that impact the environment. The Girl Scout Promise and Law states that we are expected to “use resources wisely,” and this organization is synonymous with appreciation of nature and advocacy for environmental conservation. 

My mission is but another step along the journey toward environmental protection. The Girl Scouts began the expedition decades ago, and it is thanks to their progress that conservation seems slightly less futile. Hopefully, my project will continue to gather traction and inspire other young Girl Scouts to initiate their own Gold Projects despite intrusive thoughts about how insignificant their plan may seem. Everyone can join in the effort to rebuild the monarch population simply by planting milkweed seeds. The monarchs will not survive without milkweed so please everyone, let’s reject stagnancy and take action one seed at a time. 

I invite anyone to pick up free Mission Milkweed seed packets at several locations in Rumson, including Victory Park, Meadow Ridge Park and Riverside Park. To find out more about how you can help the monarch population, follow @missionmilkweed on Instagram.