Youth Activists Use Artistic Flair to Raise Awareness about Threats to Endangered Orcas

June 11, 2019


Youth voices matter.

That’s what these 12 high school students set off to learn as they channeled their passions with paint to raise awareness about the perils facing the Southern Resident Orcas of the Salish Sea.

The mural, designed and created by participants in RE Sources’ Youth for the Environment and People (YEP!) program, now brightens the side of the RE Store and serves as a reminder to the community about the threats affecting the health of endangered orcas — toxic pollutants in the water, noise pollution from vessel traffic, and a dwindling supply of Chinook salmon to eat. Watch the mural go from chalk outlines to completion here!

The dedicated students are members of the RE Sources program YEP!, a student-led advocacy group of high school students who learned leadership and community organizing skills, participated in service learning, and how to elevate their own voices while they worked towards a culminating action project of their choice. They met weekly for several months in Stephenie Burgess’ classroom at Options High School to learn advocacy skills and to collaborate with students from other Bellingham public high schools in designing the mural.

“Working with other people who have the same passion and drive for change has been an amazing experience. I’m really proud of what we’ve created,” said YEP! participant Shannon Butler.

While the Washington State legislature worked to pass a series of laws in 2019 to protect endangered orcas and salmon, the students learned about the orcas’ plight from Katie Jones of The Center for Whale Research, who visited from San Juan Island to lead a workshop. This issue struck a chord with the team of students, and they decided to focus their action project on it.

YEP students gathering to discuss ideasYEP! students also participated in other workshops, which provided a learning space for students as they collaborated on the action project to engage the community in protecting the remaining 76 Southern Resident Orcas.

In addition, other community members provided opportunities for student learning: Eddy Ury, RE Sources Clean Energy program manager, led a workshop on how to lead an effective campaign; Katie Jones, The Center for Whale Research Education and Outreach Manager, led a workshop on the Southern Resident Orcas; Lindsey MacDonald, Sustainable Communities Partnership Program Coordinator at WWU, led a workshop on leadership skills; Gretchen Leggitt, local artist and former art teacher, led a workshop on how to paint a mural.

I’ve witnessed the drive and passion these students put forward in the design and execution of the mural and I’m proud of all they have accomplished. Youth don’t want to sit idly by while the environmental issues they hear about every day continue to cause harm. This group of young people knows how to make a lasting impression on us here at RE Sources, and on the whole community.

Come check out these empowered students’ mural facing Monroe St. on the side of The RE Store.

By Sasha Savoian, Education Specialist