Voices from Groundwork USA’s National Youth Programs

Roger’s Journey of Discovery and Connection Through Groundwork’s Youth Programs

Picture this: growing up in a bustling city, where setting foot in a National Park is a distant dream. Then, visiting one kindles a connection to the land and paves the way for a rewarding career in the great outdoors. That was exactly the case for Roger Osorio, Park Ranger for the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Wilberforce, Ohio. Roger grew up in the Bronx, NY, where access to parks and green spaces is extremely limited. For most of his childhood, parks were something for other people. That changed in high school when we had the opportunity to join a summer trip with Groundwork Hudson Valley to the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site. That moment, getting to experience a National Park for the first time, changed his perspective and sparked a lifelong commitment to public lands. What started as a one-time trip with Groundwork became several years of connection – from attending Groundwork USA’s Youth Summit to becoming a Community Engagement Intern and a Green Team member with GWHV. These experiences paved the way for a career with the National Park Service, a path he hadn’t anticipated, yet one that would solidify his relationship with the great outdoors.

Roger Osorio, former Groundwork Hudson Valley Intern and Green Team Leader from 2008 to 2018.

Roger worked with Groundwork Hudson Valley until 2018, when he left to join the National Park Service. Since then, he has made his mark across six different National Parks, wearing various hats, from Community Engagement Associate and Mason Helper to a Park Guide and now as a Park Ranger.

Roger sat down with us to share his journey and experiences with Groundwork Hudson Valley and Groundwork USA’s National Youth Programs—a time marked by discovery, belonging, and connection.


Q: How did you first connect with the Groundwork Network, and what youth programs were you involved in?

“Back in high school, I had an opportunity to join a summer field trip with Groundwork Hudson Valley to the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site. It was there that I learned about the concept of ownership of public lands, something I had never heard of before. In the city, the parks have park police and managers; I’ve always thought they belonged to somebody else, but the idea that they belonged to me was foreign.

“After the summer trip, I was invited to the Groundwork USA Youth Summit in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. There, I made connections that led to an internship the following April with Groundwork Hudson Valley as the Community Engagement Intern, where I supported community events and helped with the farmer’s market program. Then, the opportunity to join the Green Team came up, and it was the perfect opportunity to hang with my friends, do environmental work in the community, and make some money.

Roger with the GWHV Green Team.

Q: It’s clear the Groundwork Youth Programs had a significant impact on your career. Can you elaborate on that?

I would not be a Park Ranger today if it weren’t for Groundwork. I didn’t even think this was a legit career path for me. As a high school senior, I already knew I wanted to be a teacher. Then, in the summer of my senior year, the Green Team went to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. I was interested to learn more about Park Rangers, what they studied in school, for example. The more I started talking and working with them, the more I noticed they were also educators—just in a different setting that felt ideal for me. That’s when I decided to change paths to focus on gaining the experience that would help me become a Park Ranger.”

Roger teaching about focal points.

Q: Do you feel the Groundwork youth programs stand out compared to other programs?

“Absolutely. The youth programs are open to everyone. Honor classes and perfect grades aren’t a requirement, and the diversity of thought and experience is appreciated. In my first year at Groundwork, we were clearly in a very white space going to some of these National Parks. But we were given the power and freedom to speak up. That’s one thing that the Groundwork program emphasized that I don’t see in many programs–you can say no if you don’t feel comfortable. You have a voice in the programs and the experiences.

Q: What words of wisdom do you have for future members of the youth programs?

“Try anything once, and if you enjoy it, try it again. Sometimes, people think camping in the woods is about danger, bears, and snakes. But where there are bears and snake stories, there are waterfalls, sunsets, stars, fireflies, campfires, s’mores, and many other amazing things in the same space. Still, you can’t know unless you try it.”


Roger’s story reflects an important truth: the connection to the land and access to the outdoors is not a luxury but a crucial aspect of well-being and personal growth. Without the opportunities provided through the Groundwork Network, Roger wouldn’t be where he is today, educating visitors on park history and environmental stewardship. That’s the heartbeat of our National Youth Programs – to open up new and unique opportunities for underserved youth, fostering a sense of belonging and connection to places once thought to be unreachable. 


Enjoyed this interview and want to learn more? Explore the 2022 Youth Programs Report for a captivating glimpse into our National Youth Programs!


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