Going green can be as simple as turning off a light, but to actually make an impact on the environment, communities need to make big changes. For the sixth year in a row, the Young Adult Environmental Leadership Program has helped teenagers learn to become real environmental change leaders.

This year teams from Nichols, Pembroke, Charter School for Applied Technologies, Tonawanda, Mount Mercy Academy and Upward Bound came to the program hosted by Sustainable Earth Solutions that was held last Friday and Saturday at Rich Products on Niagara Street.

With the help of an adviser and a professional facilitator from the International Center for Studies in Creativity, the students set out to address environmental issues at their schools.

One of the main skills the program teaches is creative thinking. Program coordinator Dave Bauer, a self-proclaimed "earth nerd" who taught at Alden High School for 34 years, said, "Creativity isn't something that schools teach well -- they don't expose novel thinking to students."

To solve this problem while helping young people reach their potential, Bauer created the YAELP.

Bauer, president of Sustainable Earth Solutions, told the teams that there are five qualities of a change leader: perseverance, creativity, heart-centeredness, psychological insight and intellect. No one is strong in all five qualities, which is why one person can't work by themselves, he said, adding that everyone can find their niche as a team member and become an agent of change.

When the teams began working together, they covered the walls with Post-it Notes and kept their minds and hands busy with toys and Play-Doh, since it is believed that playing with something in your hands while brainstorming and problem-solving can help open the mind to new ideas. Some teachers have even tried bringing it into the classroom. The teams seemed to enjoy it.

This year they tried something new by putting the Pembroke and Nichols teams in the same room and seeing what could come out of it. Although they had different projects, (Pembroke is trying to get a wind turbine, and Nichols wants to create a green space), they decided to work together. The result: One team's compost would be given in exchange for another's seedlings. This synergy between teams showed that it isn't a competition to see who can have the most success -- everyone is working toward the same goal of helping the environment.

At the end of the day Saturday, the teams presented their projects to each other. Projects included creating an environmental vibe in the courtyard at Tonawanda, a rain garden to stop polluted run-off water at CSAT, a garden at Mount Mercy and a recycling program for Upward Bound. Some challenges they will face are getting people to be enthusiastic about the projects at their schools, approval and funding. To help solve these problems, all the students gave feedback to each other.

The teams face more hard work in the future, and spreading the word through advocacy is going to be one of their most important steps. If the teams meet certain requirements after eight weeks, they will receive $500 to continue with their projects.

The projects they're working on are just the first step. With Bauer telling them, "You have more power than you know," the students are better prepared to lead the world into a new green age.


Kristina Macro is a junior at Holy Angels Academy.