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Maddie Mathews and her robotics team help keep Mary S. Young Park free of invasive species

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Maddie Mathews, a junior at West Linn High School, is a recipient of a SOLVE award.Typically, when Maddie Mathews is not in school, she's with her robotics team, 2BDetermined. But 2020 was anything but typical. Last summer, unable to be with her team in the typical fashion, she looked for a way she and her team could give back to the community.

The team started volunteering at Mary S. Young Park, pulling ivy and blackberry bushes and planting native species like Oregon grape and wild rose.

Now Mathews, a junior at West Linn High School, has been honored as SOLVE Oregon's youth volunteer of the year for 2020. SOLVE is an organization that aims to improve the environment by implementing cleanups and planting native species.

David Kleinke, a volunteer park steward, said SOLVE partners with the park to bring in volunteers. PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Maddie Mathews, a junior at West Linn High School, works with her robotics team during a SOLVE cleanup event at Mary S Young Park

He and a group of about 10 volunteers meet a couple times a week to keep the park clean and free of invasive species.

"We're a bunch of old guys and women — the average age is probably around 70," he said.

So SOLVE helps by bringing in younger volunteers.

They've been holding SOLVE cleanup events on the first Saturday of each month for about four years, according to Kleinke.

He said when the pandemic hit, SOLVE pulled all their events off the calendar.

The original group of 10 continued to volunteer safely during that time.

"It's a big park, we can stay away from each other, so there's no risk of transmitting the virus," he said.

He invited the community to come out and volunteer through Nextdoor and Facebook. And soon after that, Mathews reached out to him.

"She showed up with like 15 to 20 volunteers — parents, students and teachers … and they were so sweet," Kleinke said. "They came back again, and they came back again, and they kept coming back."

He said he admired the consistency of the group.

"I've worked with youth groups for the last four years and they've been wonderful … but it's rare to see a group that comes out as a group, and then consistently as a group," Klienke said.

He said he was asked to nominate someone for the SOLVE award and immediately thought of Mathews.

"She's been able to get this group out consistently every month, with consistent numbers following pandemic protocols," he said.

He said the SOLVE board of directors reviewed applications from across the state and chose Mathews.

Mathhews said she's learned a lot about SOLVE since being nominated.

"I didn't even know what it was before I started volunteering," she said. "I was really surprised (by the award) but it felt really good to know that we're making a difference."

She said the award was really for the entire robotics team.

"They all helped so much," she said.

Mathews was recognized by the West Linn Parks Board at a meeting Jan. 14 and was honored by West Linn City Council Feb. 8.


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