Kids who want to make a difference and help clean up the environment attended the Environmental Youth Summit that was held Friday and Saturday at Rich Products. This annual summit is open to all students, as long as they have a teacher or adviser to accompany them, and it is hosted by Sustainable Earth Solutions in conjunction with the National Federation for Just Communities and other organizations.
The NFJC helps with diversity training and tries to have students work across ethnic lines.
During this summit, school teams develop plans of action around a certain environmental challenge. Dave Bauer, president of Sustainable Earth Solutions, has a clear vision for his annual summits: to create a corps of youth empowered to act as the world's next generation of change leaders. He defines a change leader as having five distinct qualities: perseverance, creativity, psychological insight, heat-centeredness and intellect. A change leader is someone who steps into the arena when times are tough and alters the way business is done.
In order to help the kids at the summit become change leaders, Bauer tries to increase the youths' creative thinking skills, leadership qualities and communication skills for networking with others in the community. He also assists them in formulating effective strategic planning and aims to increase their comfort level so they can form relationships with others from differing socioeconomic backgrounds.
Bauer said his one challenge is "maintaining the high that students get from doing the summit." After the summit, it is more than likely some kids forget about the environmental projects they have been working on. While Bauer and the students' teachers can help the students continue to pursue their goals, the summit tries to instill a sense of leadership in the children so that they will be able to guide their own communities at school and at home to get involved in the mission to make Earth a cleaner place.
Bauer has the kids take a self-inventory questionnaire at the beginning and end of the summit, and the statistics clearly show the kids make significant progress from the two-day experience.
Linda Emmi, one of the advisers who accompanied students to this summit, said the summit is very organized and professional and that the facilitators are extremely knowledgeable. She especially likes it because there are no boundaries when it comes to brainstorming ideas.
"Frankly, any idea works, and students are encouraged to think out of the box because no ideas are criticized," Emmi said.
She added that she saw shy kids getting more comfortable, smarter and empowered; and that they believed that all the great ideas circulating at the summit were possible. Emmi said she believes the kids learn more in this type of environment rather than constant structured learning in a classroom.
Nola Provost, Sarah Jastrzab and Andrew Nillms all attend Starpoint Central High School. Their school is currently working on a rain garden, which would save all the water from the top of the roof and have an open valve to water the plants surrounding the school. They got many ideas from the summit on how to implement their plan.
Nola, a senior, admits that there are many more problems in this world than most people realize, but there also are more solutions than people may think.
"These solutions can only be attained by hard work and team effort," she said.
Sarah, a sophomore, believes the hardest part of the summit for her was to be able to think on her feet and have the courage to share her ideas with the rest of the group. Both girls added that they made many new friends by meeting and talking to new people from the area.
Andrew, an 18-year-old senior, said the summit inspired him to think of ideas for new green technology.
"My dream is to build a house completely off the grid that will require no bills," Andrew said.
On the first day of the Environmental Youth Summit, three people -- Tina Rimbeck, Katie Farr and Erin Heaney -- came to speak to the students.
Rimbeck talked about how she had passion for both music and environmental science and is now pursuing her goal to be an environmental lobbyist. She said her hardest decision was going to college because she wasn't sure what to major in, but now she has it all figured out. Farr always had an animal passion and admires groups such as the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. She is a proud vegetarian and an environmental activist. And, Heaney is the executive director of the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York, whose mission is to protect the rights of Western New Yorkers to breathe clean air and live in a healthy environment.
If everyone can contribute a little to help the environment, under the direction of young change leaders, the environment could be a much healthier place for generations to come.
Michael Khan is a freshman at Canisius High School.