The inspiring power of youth voices


The strength of youth

As a young professional, I often feared that others would try to take advantage of my inexperience. But then I’d stiffen up and mentally challenge them — “Go ahead, underestimate me.”

One of the great things about being young is that you haven’t learned to be overly cautious in your approach to problem solving. You are willing to take bigger risks for bigger rewards. We need it if we are to save the planet from our collective selves.

The more the better

Over the years, Western Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC)of which I am the Deputy Director with our small office of eight people, comes forward to tackle the difficult issues facing our service regions of more than eight counties, such as climate change, access and protection of water, environmental justice and environmental education.

As an “action board”, we seek to create well-informed materials and provide data that empowers elected officials, policy makers, students, homeowners, business owners, and community members to access information, tools and actions that they can then apply to their work in the environmental spaces they encounter in their worlds.

And while we leverage our knowledge base to fuel our programming from education courses, research projects, demonstration sites, advisory boards and community events, it is by opening the door to voices of young people we have witnessed remarkable insights from a place that some organizations ignore, at their peril.

Over the years in my career, from my youth to now as an adult, I have come to rely on intergenerational dialogue to create a more welcoming space for others to join. to move the dialogue forward as we focus on the value and insights provided by young people. voice.

By expanding access to young people through our programming – which includes growing our local expertise in areas such as community engagement, fund development, environmental science and policy, education and journalism – as well as focusing on the voices of young people, this offers many benefits, not just for WMEAC, but for our collective future.

Translate message

One of the most visible places where we have seen the value of raising youth voices is in our eco-journalism and blogging internship. Three times a year, we hire a journalism or creative writing student to use voice to address the many aspects of our programming, events and topics for publication in our blog, newsletter and regional media. These interns take a wide range of environmental topics – some more complicated or less appealing than others – and translate them into stories to appeal to a wider audience.

Instead of neglecting the voice of young people, we’ve found that extending the agency to them quite often results in a unique, community-centric approach to our pillars, ranging from what’s happening to what’s others do locally to help protect the environment. .

Another added benefit is that with the passing of the “talking stick” from one generation to the next, we can listen and learn from our trainees who often source from their peers, who can operate off the radar of most adults or offer new styles of messaging, like creating artwork or poetry, while elevating our nonprofit’s mission.

Unlike my example at the start, we find much-needed inspiration in a world oversaturated with constant noise to make room for more voices. These voices come from a group where some have chosen for themselves to determine a pathway through which their ideas can emerge in the culture. And it’s those voices that have the ability to cut through the clutter.

Sometimes the “environment” seems too big for each of us to fix on our own, so we freeze and do nothing. Reading stories about actions taken by others, whether big or small, can help us defrost and inspire us to participate. If our young people do it, so do we.

Their voices (selections)

To help illustrate what we have discovered, here are some examples from some of our former young professionals —

Skyla Jewell Hammie is a trainee journalist for MLive Media Group in Kalamazoo and a freelance writer and editor for Upwork. Her internship at WMEAC came shortly after earning a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Western Michigan University in 2020. Her article, Rockford, MI 11-Year-Old Donates to WMEAC Against Water Pollutiondescribes how a young boy decided to do something about PFAS contamination in his community.

Kat Lykins was our Fall 2021 intern. She is majoring in Environmental Studies at the University of Washington in Seattle. She came to us with experience in journalism and writing her high school newspaper. we are water is a piece that highlights one of the young poets who took part in an eco-responsible writing workshop last summer. Caebre Baty shared his words with the WMEAC and attendees at last year’s Mayors Grand River Cleanup kick-off event.

Andrew Block came to WMEAC in the final year of his Masters of Journalism program at Michigan State University in 2019. He is currently working at CNET, covering home energy and utility news. He strives to help people make informed and confident decisions about saving energy and money, especially when switching to solar power. He has two plays that highlight youth activism for the environment – Youngsters show strong at Rise Up and Drawdown and Elementary students organize a fundraiser for WMEAC.

Sarah Barney is completing her degree in environmental studies, with an emphasis on narrative journalism and geosciences at Denison University in Granville, Ohio. She did her internship at WMEAC virtually during the summer of 2020. Her piece, Climate Activism Success in West Michigandescribes three different West Michigan success stories, two of which spotlight young professionals – all of whom got their start in environmental activism at WMEAC.

The road ahead is bright

The bumps of COVID-19 have been real and it might be easy for all of us to just hunker down and do the absolute minimum of work. However, at WMEAC where we look to our past as well as our future, the role young people express as we have witnessed is inspiring not only within our organization but in our world.

Author’s message: We are always looking for candidates for the WMEAC eco-journalism and blogging internship. If you know of any youth voices who would like to participate in our program, please direct them to our website to apply.


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