Last month, YMCA Earth Service Corps (YESC) held its Environmental Leaders Summit, bringing together youth leaders from around King County as well as professionals in the environmental field. Topics for discussion included food waste, green design, urban gardening, recycling, alternative energy, access to the outdoors, and sustainable choices.The room buzzed with energy as these young environmental leaders shared information on projects they were working on and brainstormed solutions to issues we face locally and globally. Here are three of the impressive high school students that gathered for this important summit.
Briana Foote is a senior at West Seattle High School. She became interested in environmental issues when she saw just how much food at her school was being thrown away. She wonders whether the students actually like the food served in the lunchroom. Out of nearly 1,000 students, only 100 or fewer eat the breakfasts and fewer than 200 eat the lunches served. She has observed that much waste results when students don’t eat the food on their trays. Briana hopes to start a food waste prevention project at her school. Her first action was to send a letter to the school district about the issue.
Her plans for the future include rescuing dogs from abuse or homelessness and helping schools and people in need. She says that as a Native American, she is aware of the difficulties posed by lack of resources. She believes the most challenging environmental issue we face is "really getting people to think about Mother Nature and what she has given us.”
Her optimism about the future of the planet is tempered by her concern about plastics in the environment. She believes that we need to use less plastic and that we need to have kids spend more time outdoors. She also believes that educating others about the environment is critical.
Ardo Hersi is a senior at Foster High School in Tukwila. She joined the YESC on campus last year and attended her first summit where she began to better understand the ways we affect the environment and it affects us. She realized the importance of sustainability.
The YESC is small at her school – only three to five students are members – but the commitment is large. Aside from the monthly YESC meetings, the group has done restoration work in SeaTac, removing invasive blackberry plants. They want to start a food-scrap composting program at school and would like to make a video to motivate students to participate. They have also received a grant from the YMCA to start a community garden and are looking for a location to establish it.
In addition to the environment, Ardo is interested in social justice issues and would like to pursue this interest in college either at the University of Washington or Western Washington University. She realizes that the environment and social justice are intertwined. The source of her interest in social justice is her parents who emigrated from Somalia in 1992.
Her biggest environmental concern is the loss of biodiversity. "Our world is drastically changing,” she says. "We need to recycle, shop locally – these are small things that we can do to help.” She is pretty optimistic about the future of the planet. "We need to educate people about environmental issues,” she says. "The more people that know about the issues, the more people there are to help solve them.”
Emma Young, a senior at Roosevelt High School in Seattle, became interested in environmental issues after spending a year abroad in Bhutan and a month in India where she saw "lots of pollution.” When she returned to the United States, she was motivated to help reduce pollution here.
"I think the most challenging environmental issue we face is pollution in general,” she says, noting common sources such as the release of CO2 from our cars and improper sorting of our recyclables from our trash. She believes "the most important thing as young environmentalists we can do is educate people about what they can do.”
Her most recent project as president of the Roosevelt High School green team has been overseeing the trash sorting at lunch. "We have monitors who help students sort their trash into the correct compost, recycling and trash bins. It has been a huge success in waste reduction.” The green team is also beginning to implement food waste collection in the teacher lounges. "We are still in the process of purchasing compost collection bins and educating staff and students,” she explains, though by the end of the year everything should be in place.
When asked how optimistic she is about the future of the planet, she pointed out that there are a lot of people concerned about the Earth. "There are so many green teams, YESC programs, and ways for people to get involved, it’s amazing!” She’s also realistic. "We have a huge challenge ahead of us though and everyone needs to do their part. Educating about the environment is key!”