LAKE STEVENS — On Jan. 19, teens across Snohomish County went out into their communities on a day off from school to give back in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr.
The activities were all coordinated by the United Way of Snohomish County as part of its annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, which marshals hundreds of teens into volunteer activities across the county.
All told, 268 teens came out to lend a hand Monday, as well as 41 adult volunteers. A total of 16 agencies, hosting projects at 14 sites around Snohomish County, helped make the day off school and work into one dedicated to giving back to the community.
In Lake Stevens, about 20 volunteers got their hands dirty potting tree saplings at Sound Salmon Solutions, a nonprofit regional fisheries enhancement group working in the Snohomish, Stillaguamish and Island County watersheds.
Over the course of the year, Sound Salmon Solutions relies on more than 1,000 volunteers of all ages who come out to work on various restoration projects.
Monday’s marathon tree-potting session was just one part of that year-long initiative to restore the region’s waterways, said Robert Sendrey, the nonprofit’s executive director.
“We’re always out in the community getting volunteers to help us,” Sendrey said.
At about 11 a.m., Jamie Burton, 18, was helping sweep up behind Sound Salmon Solutions’ large work shed where rows of newly potted trees were awaiting transport to the group’s nursery.
Burton said she heard about the opportunity at Sound Salmon Solutions from her civics teacher at Marysville Getchell High School, where she is a senior.
“I knew how to care for plants and stuff from my grandmother and gardening,” Burton said. “I thought it would be a good project for my day off.”
The trees being potted Monday will go into the nursery for one or two years, said Lisa Syravong, who coordinates the organization’s volunteer program. The trees will be planted later along streams and rivers, where they will help create a better ecosystem for fish and the insects and macroinvertibrates they eat.
Last year, volunteers planted trees along Jim Creek near Arlington and in the lower Snoqualmie River near Duvall.
They also removed invasive plants like Himalayan blackberry and Japanese knotweed, Syravong said.
In the yard at Sound Salmon Solutions, Hunter Carlson, 16, a sophomore at Glacier Peak High School in Snohomish, was helping remove leaves and other debris from the potted trees. “I was looking for something that involved salmon or wildlife,” he said.
His brother, Trent Carlson, 13, a seventh-grader at Valley View Middle School, reminded him that a few years ago they had done a salmon count at a hatchery in Woodinville.
“Before I could even remember I just loved the outdoors, fishing and the environment,” Trent Carlson explained.
Inside the work shed, a group of students from Mariner High School in Mukilteo were potting 2-foot-tall black cottonwood saplings. About 500 saplings awaited attention. One student pushed in a wheelbarrow full of soil and spread it on a work table, while the others scooped it into the pots for the trees.
“I haven’t done this in a long time,” said Darinka Cereceres, 16, a junior who, like the other students there from Mariner High, also takes part in the YMCA Snohomish County’s Minority Achievers Program.
That program seeks to motivate and support students of color and immigrants to achieve their educational career goals. Getting the students involved in the community is a big part of that, said Alex Costumbrado, the YMCA’s youth development director.
“I used to help my mom out with her garden,” Cereceres said. Spending the day potting trees at Sound Salmon Solutions was fun, she said, “especially while hanging out with friends.”