From the CEO: Why Does Earth Force Care about Health Equity?

This month, Earth Force received funding to engage young people in addressing health equity issues in their communities. We are very excited about working with some new (and old) partners to provide a platform and opportunity for young people to explore and address issues through this lens, with support from Earth Force’s Health Equity & Service-Learning Toolkit.

At Earth Force, we have long reinforced that environment is about place – where we live, work, play, and go to school. Especially in our cities, the natural and the built environments shape the quality of life and health of our communities. And, while young people’s projects might be for the benefit of the “environment,” they are often about improving the environment for the benefit of people. Enter this opportunity to call out health equity…

Health Equity Toolkit from Earth Force and the Colorado Health FoundationWe have bolstered our work and understanding of health by talking to researchers and adopting a perspective that looks at the social and environmental determinants of health. One study talks about how zip codes can serve as indicators of health because the social and physical conditions of our communities play right into our individual health status. A community without access to a grocery store, close to highways and industry, with few parks, and that is challenging to navigate by foot, makes it a lot harder to lead a lifestyle of healthy eating and active living.

And, we have young people to credit for helping us embrace this focus. Young people have been telling us for years that these issues matter deeply to them.

My first year at Earth Force, we had young people working on improving drinking water quality in their neighborhood. And, every year since then we have had young people identify issues that directly impact their health and that of their community — be it advocating for more fresh fruits and vegetables in their school lunches, starting community gardens, or building walking maps of their community to encourage mapping bike and walk routes to their schools.

Youth and the EnvironmentSo what is our opportunity now? We have provided some great assessment tools for young people to explore their communities around five different areas: transportation, food access, indoor air quality, access to recreation, and a clean and safe environment. We have built a framework for educators to help young people see these issues as part of the whole picture of what makes their community a great place to live. We will provide exemplary professional development and evaluation tools for adults to make space for young people’s exploration of these issues within their community. And then, we get out of the way and support them as they bring their passion, energy, and hope to bear on these issues. I am confident we will be sharing some wonderful stories in the near future!

What health equity issues do you see in your community? Are youth engaged in addressing them? Tell us!

A Walk Down Memory Lane

To kick off our anniversary year, I thought we could take a trip down memory lane, celebrating 20 years in the environmental education field.  The Earth Force story begins in 1991 when The Pew Charitable Trusts commissioned a series of consultations with 65 environmental leaders in order to identify major gaps or needs in the environmental field that were not being adequately addressed.  Deep exploration by many stakeholders presented an optimistic picture: a growing nationwide wave of interest in and commitment to the environment by youth.

On February 14, 1994, 20 young people making up Earth Force’s first Youth Advisory old EFBoard publicly launched the organization at a news conference in Washington, DC.  The board members had a meeting with Vice President Al Gore to present the “Plan for the Planet,” an outline of environmental recommendations created by 50 youth delegates from all states.

Always staying true to our mission of engaging youth as active citizens, we have slowly evolved throughout the years. In 1996 we introduced Earth Force Community Action and Problem Solving, (now the Earth Force Process) incorporating best practices of environmental education, service-learning, and civic education. By 2002 Earth Force established eight field offices around the country and our first affiliate office in Austin, TX. That year, Earth Force held the first GM GREEN Teacher Institute, providing critical professional development in water quality education. In 2010, Earth Force established a national office in Denver, CO, and transition to our current model of supporting youth through Youth Engagement Partnerships across the county.

Twenty years is an exciting milestone to celebrate, especially as a non-profit. For Earth KIC-NETForce, the number 20 reaffirms our legitimacy in the environmental education fields and reinforces our initial goal of engaging youth as environmental citizens who effect change. Through our strong partnerships across the country, we have engaged hundreds of thousands of young people since first opening our doors in February, 1994, and we look forward to engaging many more in the next 20 years.

American Water Resource Association Showcases Power of Local Water Education

Over the past year. the American Water Resource Association (AWRA) showcased the power of Earth Force‘s hyper-local urban water education program KIC-NET (Keep It Clean Neighborhood Environmental Trios.) The five part series, written by Earth Force’s ”Keep It Clean” Communications Liaison, Lydia Hooper, takes readers through the creation of the program and its impact on the Denver community.

“For individuals to become stewards of community assets like parks, they first must be supported in changing their perceptions, values, and competencies. Therefore, KIC-NET educators are trained in the Earth Force Process, which integrates STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) principles and service-learning.”

With the second year of the KIC-NET pilot program coming to a close this May, Earth Force plans to expand the program to other communities throughout the U.S.

Visit the AWRA blog to read the complete A Western City Collaborates for Meaningful Water Education blog series.