Without question, there’s something to be said for being needed. Once it was Uncle Sam in his star-spangled hat calling on Americans to fight for their country; once it was John Lennon, with his flowing hair and perpetually peace sign-shaped fingers imploring us to “give peace a chance”; and now, in this post-world war, post-draft, post-projected apocalypse era, it is a new figure begging for the help of the youth. Mother Nature (by way of scientists and eco-activists) is reaching out to young people to help solve one of America’s most increasingly concerning issues. According to Dave Bauer, founder of Sustainable Earth Solutions Inc., “If environmental change does not occur from this generation, it will not occur.”
Bauer’s Young Adult Environmental Leadership Program (YAELP), which was conceived in 2007, is designed to teach students to heed Mother Nature’s call and become “change agents” in their communities.
“When kids believe they can effect change, great things start happening,” said Bauer, and indeed, that is exactly what transpired at last weekend’s YAELP.
Born out of Bauer’s multifaceted environmental science/teaching/creative-thinking background, YAELP provides students an opportunity to contemplate and discuss things that schools do not have time to teach.
All Western New York schools, along with local scout organizations, were invited to attend this two-day conference, which is centered around the concepts of change leadership, creative thinking, teamwork and advocacy.
On March 1 and 2, groups of five to eight students from Health Science Charter School, International Prep, Nichols, South Park High School/Southside Elementary and Frank A. Sedita Elementary gathered in Greiner Hall at the University at Buffalo’s North Campus.
Each group came into the weekend with a specific, pertinent ecological issue they were determined to address and, through a variety of constructive activities, concluded the program with a narrowly tailored plan of action. In addition to a teacher/adviser, each group of students was also assigned a professional facilitator from the International Center for Studies in Creativity, a little-known but one-of-a-kind program located at SUNY Buffalo State. With the help of these facilitators, students worked their way through potential issues that might arise in the process of getting approval for or carrying out their plans. For example, in one activity called “Assistors/Resistors,” the groups identified specific people or groups that would encourage and facilitate their plan and those that would pose a hindrance to its fulfillment. In another activity known as “Parking Lot,” students wrote any minor, secondary issues that arose on a Post-it note and placed the notes on a large piece of paper, which became a sort of way station for concerns that needed to be addressed at some point but were too complicated for the primary round of planning.
The object of YAELP is for each team to create a sustainable plan for its individual community. After a few weeks, their work will be reported, and if they have made sufficient progress, they will receive a $500 check for the purpose of completing their project. As time goes on, if progress continues, they will have the opportunity to receive up to two more $100 checks to cover the costs of their projects.
Toward the end of the second day of the program, all five groups had to fine-tune their plans and present their individual goals and ideas so they could receive constructive feedback from the other adults and students present. Each group focused on its own issue and identified the challenges they might face in setting out to solve its problem. Health Science Charter School intends to begin to green its community by adding plants, improving the rate of recycling, installing a Paper Retriever recycling receptacle, and increasing the amount of outdoor space. By doing so, they hope to cut energy costs immediately and reduce the footprint they leave on the earth.
International Prep, having already secured a $1,150 grant for its Rain Garden Project, hopes to find a way to receive rain barrels, compost bins and the perennial and native Western New York plants they have chosen to plant in the garden. Once completed, the rain garden will consist of a shallow depression filled with deep-rooted plants that prevents excess water from reaching nearby sewers.
Nichols plans to use all available forms of media to raise awareness about its pre-existing relationship with Community Action Organization (CAO) and build a greenhouse that the school could use.
The combination team of South Park High School and Southside Elementary School (also known as the “Aquabuddies”) plans to raise awareness about water pollution in its community, South Buffalo. In six months, they hope to host an event called “Clean Day” during which the community will dedicate an entire day to maintaining environmental cleanliness on land and in water.
The students from Frank A. Sedita Elementary School intend to, after receiving permission from their principal, begin a recycling club, gather littering data and set forth a comprehensive list of recyclable materials. To raise awareness and interest for this club, they plan to create a mascot, logo, jingle and a website complete with videos.
“There is a window in time, and if it doesn’t happen, the world will be very different ... We need you guys,” Bauer said.
He describes Buffalo as a city that has a tendency to “silo” rather than share its resources.
“Cities that share resources, pool resources, progress. People want to live there,” he said.
Bauer cherishes, therefore, the multilayered partnerships that formed to bring YAELP into existence, and looks forward to the progress and collaboration that the younger generation will bring. Sustainable Earth Solutions has been working with Earth Force and Buffalo Urban Outdoor Education (BUOE) to investigate local issues and prepare the students to work on their projects.
Kate Hilliman, executive director of BUOE, said, “This has been student-driven from the beginning.”
Although YAELP focuses mainly on environmental improvement, Bauer explains that social justice undertones are most definitely present, and the students undoubtedly were able to perceive that aspect of the program.
Frank A. Sedita student Josha Dee Lockhart reflected on her experience: “It feels like we have the control to say something. We have the power to do something for once.”
Christina Seminara is a senior at Nardin Academy.