Earth Force President and CEO Talks Engaging Young People to Improve the Environment

Adapted from an interview with John Shegerian for Green is Good Radio

What is Earth Force working to accomplish?

The big vision of Earth Force is a nation where young people are actively involved. They’re sitting at the table and helping to make decisions and positive change in their environment, their communities, and schools. We’ve learned that you can’t just throw a program at an educator, community partner, or a group of young people and think that they can accomplish it. Our commitment is to work at a community level and bring together those entities, including businesses, faith-based organizations, schools, and other nonprofits, that is, the adults, to create a shared platform for young people to step into leadership roles to effect change in their communities. We’re convinced young people don’t have to wait until they’re 18 to be change agents and to bring their marvelous energy, creativity, and commitment to addressing some of the issues that we face.

What does environment mean to Earth Force?

We’ve adopted the environmental justice definition of environment, which is very place-based in that it’s where we work, play, and learn. This approach grounds our work and focuses young people on what is immediately around them. Especially if you’re working in urban settings, those surroundings include clean air, clean water, access to healthy foods, the ability to recreate, and to be able to have safe places to walk. From that perspective, the environment is not just as nature oriented, like animals and trees; it pushes us to think about aspects of our surroundings that affect humans and the quality of life in our communities. I have to credit young people for really pushing that perspective in Earth Force’s understanding about how we do this work.

How does Earth Force engage youth in projects to create platforms that give them opportunities to become young leaders?

Earth Force starts from having a deep commitment to supporting our democracy, and, as an organization, works to build civic skills in the younger generation.

Our six-step Process starts with young people work together to identify an issue in their community that they care about. They’ve got to be passionate about the issue. The Process helps them figure out how to really look at the political and social landscape in their communities to figure out things like: Who are some people they need to work with to address this issue? What’s been done before? What are some resources and strategies that they could use to actually effect change for the long-term?

It’s also really important that they get to actually implement their project. Students use criteria-based decision making to work together to determine possible solutions. Ideally, through this process, they’ve selected a solution that they can accomplish in an appropriate timeframe with the resources on-hand. At the end, they reflect, asking, “What else needs to be done? And how do we share and celebrate the work that we’ve done?”

Here’s an example: Many of our programs start with young people looking at a watershed in terms of a local river or a local lake. They get out of the classroom and do an assessment of the health of that body of water. One group of young people were doing that inventory and noticed that their local creek had become a dumping ground. After sorting through the trash they collected, they realized that a lot of it was electronics. Folks were throwing out computer screens and cell phones that often required a fee to dispose of appropriately. They decided to work with their local community to set up an electronic recycling program. They were solving the issue of dumping in their local waterways by creating a community alternative that provided a more environmentally-friendly disposal strategy.

Explain how uncommon collaboratives can be a key to solution making with regards to sustainability and our environment for the months and years ahead.

An uncommon collaborative brings critical players, including businesses, schools, universities, faith-based institutions, and community based organizations to the table to figure out how to share an agenda and a vision for working together. We’ve dedicated ourselves to figuring out how to get those entities in a room to collectively share the resources, the expertise, the energy, and a vision to really get something done. Our goal is to support and work with organizations and entities holding up a world where young people play a deep and profound leadership role in shaping the future of our communities. But if we don’t do that together, if we don’t commit to creating that uncommon collaborative, it’s very difficult, not only for young people, obviously, but for all of us.

Earth Force MAP resized

Hear Lisa’s interview in its entirety here.

Top Five Reasons to Give to Earth Force

At Earth Force, we rely on the generosity of individual donors to help us and our network of diverse partners provide young people with hands-on, real-world opportunities to practice civic skills, acquire a deep understanding of the environment, and develop the skills and motivation to become lifelong leaders in addressing community issues.

Need more of a reason to give? Here are 5!

5.) It’s Good for You: A 2006 study from the National Institutes of Health found that when people give to charities, they activate regions of their brains associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating a “warm glow” effect. Scientists also believe that altruistic behavior releases endorphins in the brain, producing the positive feeling known as the “helper’s high.”

4.) Change Communities: At Earth Force, we work with communities to help them authentically engage youth as leaders TODAY.

3.) Be Part of Collective Impact: We have learned that one organization can’t do it all – it takes a collective of organizations within a community to effect change. Our donors are a key piece of the puzzle.

2.) More Bang for Your Buck: If you schedule your donation before Dec. 9, 2014, it will be matched 1:1 by an anonymous donor (up to $5,000 total).

1.) Supporting Youth As Leaders: In the past 20 years, Earth Force has engaged over 300,000 young people. With your donation, you can help us engage the next 300,000.

Schedule your donation to Earth Force for Dec. 9, 2014 – Colorado Gives Day!