EcoPreneurs-in-Training in Queens: Youth Investigate Community Health and Environment

The Human Impacts Institute (HII) has been working with Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE) in recent weeks for theGreening Western Queens Fund. Providing curriculum, environmental leadership training for youth and public workshops, the Human Impacts Institute is helping AAFE to green western queens through hands-on education and action. Greening Western Queens is an initiative of the North Star Fund to invest in energy efficiency and environmental projects in Western Queens communities affected by a July 2006 electric power outage. One goal of the HII workshops is to inform community members on local environmental topics, such as environmental conservation, garden rooftops, composting, and issues of waste and packing. Each week, a different subject is covered by HII, AAFE, and other education partners. Realizing that living in the NYC area sometimes creates boundaries towards living an eco-friendly lifestyle, the HII aims to provide community members and youth leaders-in-training with practical solutions for decreasing theircarbon footprints and overall community health impact.

A very important component of these workshops and the partnership between the Human Impacts Institute and AAFE is outreach. In the past few weeks, HII Environmental Service Interns have been working with the students on effective communication strategies and on basic tools for dealing with the public. For many of the students, this is their first experience with public outreach. Canvassing can be intimidating but each one of them has shown a great deal of progress in the short time that they have been involved. The first time the students hit the streets of Woodside, they had either survey questions or interviews questions. The survey involved questions such as: Do you recycle? If so, how often?; Do you think recycling helps protect the environment?; Do you shop at a local farmers market?; etc. Some interview questions included: Do you think the government is doing a good job keeping your neighborhood clean? If no, explain.; How are you affected by air pollution?; What are the main environmental issues that are going on in your neighborhood?; etc. The students seemed to enjoy outreach and came out with good responses from the citizens of Woodside.

On Thursday, July 28, 2011, the Human Impacts Institute led a workshop about waste, air and water pollution, and how local restaurants can recycle their cooking oil for fuel, which is an ongoing outreach component of HII’s EcoPreneur’s program. The reason for the recycling is for the conversion of the cooking oil into a more sustainable bio-diesel fuel. Topics covered in this workshop include: Climate change, the issues with cooking oil waste, particulate matter, and health issues associated with pollution. Students also learned about how biodiesel is made.

Also on Thursday, the students participated in a interactive role-play scenario. This gave them insight into how they may react when out in the field doing outreach. Different situations were portrayed by the HII as well as the AAFE representatives. One example of a role play scenario was an uninterested business owner, where students had to work extra hard to get their cause heard. A few laughs were had by all involved, but it was great practice.

The program has a goal of outreaching to at least 100 local restaurants about cooking oil recycling and options for supporting a healthy community through responsible waste management. On their first day of restaurant outreach, our EcoPreneurs-in-training already reached around 30 local restaurants, well on our way to our summer goal!

By Brigette Walsh, Human Impacts Institute, Environmental Services Intern

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