Although we had to say goodbye to our ten youth leaders from the Green School in Williamsburg (a description of the graduation celebration can be found here), we managed to pack a lot into the six weeks of our program (funded by the NYSDEC's Environmental Justice Community Impact Grant Program) Below are a few highlights of our adventures!
October 21: ‘Branding’ and Personal Leadership
For the last workshop of the Youth Leadership Intensive, we wanted to focus on the students’ personal goals, takeaways, and their definitions of leadership. Leading the workshop were Iris Malfetano and Miguel Padro, from the Aspen Institute’s Business & Society Program, which aims to catalyze positive social and environmental change from within corporate structures. They led the students in a series of exercises aimed at making the students ask themselves: what makes me happy? What don’t I want to be known for? What is ‘my’ tennis ball? Of course, these are questions people pay thousands of dollars to help figure out, but we wanted the students feel comfortable - and empowered - to begin posing those questions for themselves.
October 16: Mentorship Day
Even the most well-intentioned leadership programs can begin to resemble an endless series of PowerPoint slides, and our current environmental challenges can seem so overwhelming that the choices are either to move to the woods and survive off of berries and kale or just give up. Mentorship Day was to put the power of choice back into the hands of the students, and to highlight that ‘sustainability,’ can be incorporated in all workplaces and professions.
Students were asked to list their top three choices from over fifteen different organizations, and were then matched with one. Taking place in every borough but the Bronx (not intentional!), Mentorship Day was different for each student, and - hopefully - made them feel special, as well as giving them a chance to experience various kinds of ‘environmental’ careers.
October 14: Tour of Newtown Wastewater Treatment Plant
Did you know that a quick ten-minute shower can use up to 40 gallons of water? Do you know where that water goes, or what congealed fat and grease looks like in our sewer system? Or how important trees and ‘green infrastructure’ are to helping reduce sewage overflow into our waterways? We didn’t - until our tour through the supercool Newtown Wastewater Treatment Plant in Brooklyn.
Superbonus: we got to go to the roof, where we not only got an amazing view of the city but also a sneak peek into the sludge digester eggs. Our guide explained that anaerobic bacteria broke down the sludge in the eggs and eventually the material inside could be used as a form of fertilizer. And if nothing else: the students definitely won’t forget where the water goes every time they flush!
October 5: Students as Consumer Advocates
Too often, when we think of ‘the environment’, we think of something ‘upstate’ or ‘over there;’ something that is separate and apart from us, our streets, and our apartment buildings. ‘Students as Consumer Advocates’ was designed to dispel that notion, by turning the focus into 'our' spaces, what we clean with, what we put in and on our bodies, and how our indoor spaces are as much ‘the environment’ as that forest upstate.
Dr. Stephen Dahmer - a doctor specializing in environmental health - led the workshop. His #1 takeaway: as much as possible, keep your cell phone away from your head! Also, take a good look at the products you use.
September 28: Students as Stewards
If you’ve seen any of these signs, then you’re aware that the New York City Parks Department conducted its third ‘Tree Census’ with the goal of mapping every City tree in every borough. The TreesCount! initiative worked with community organizations across the city, which in turn organized volunteer events to bring New Yorkers together to learn more the roles trees play in our ecosystem. After a training led by NYC Parks Staff, our intrepid youth leaders, armed with odometers, tape measures, and tablets with a brand new tree mapping app, paired off and bravely entered our urban jungle to map our carbon loving neigbors (which, incidentally, have a whole host of benefits quite apart from reducing carbon emissions). While the unseasonably muggy day made the mapping a little more challenging - this activity definitely brought out the little tree-hugger in even the most forest-phobic of us!