“The world is changing around us and I want to do my part to help and make a positive impact.” — 2021 YEP! Participant, grade 10
The people who stand to suffer the most from leaders delaying meaningful climate action — young people — have been leading the charge for change nationally and globally for several years. Students are keenly aware of the issues we face. All they need are the tools to address them.
That’s where the Youth for the Environment and People (YEP!) program comes in — Now in its fourth year, YEP! provides an opportunity for students to share ideas and passions to work together with other youth in choosing, planning, and implementing a group action project around an environmental or community issue.
High school students from Whatcom and Skagit counties dove into local climate solutions this fall. Using the solution focused framework from Project Drawdown they learned about carbon sinks that sequester greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and engaged in hands-on, community-based projects.
This was the first time students collaborated with North Cascades Institute which broadened our reach and enriched the program. We were able to facilitate 2 cohorts — one in Whatcom County (led by RE Sources) and one in Skagit (led by NCI) — with opportunities for combined cohort participation during stewardship days and over Zoom during the final celebration day.
“YEP! helped me learn about climate change, it helped me learn about people, and it helped me learn about myself”
Each week, students discussed climate impacts, shared their thoughts about climate solutions, participated in leadership and project planning activities, and created cohesive and supportive cohorts through storytelling and laughter. These teens also woke up early two Saturday mornings to get their hands dirty and learn about community-based organizations doing work to improve and preserve habitat and ecosystems.
One morning both cohorts hacked back and cleared invasive blackberry bushes along Squalicum Creek at Cornwall Park during the community work party hosted by Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association and the City of Bellingham Parks and Recreation. Nathan Zabel, Education Program Coordinator for NSEA, also led the students through activities connecting salmon populations and stream health. One student remarked, “I learned about NSEA which opened my eyes to how climate change can affect the ecosystem in different ways”.
One drizzling Saturday morning both cohorts met AmeriCorps members Hannah Katz and Jonathan Worley of the Skagit Land Trust at the Tope Ryan Conservation Area to fix and remove tree protectors around the site. Hannah and Jonathan connected the land trust’s tree planting projects and preservation work to carbon sequestration and climate adaptation. Students also learned about conservation careers before they got to work protecting trees and removing trash found along the Samish River, including a basketball heroically rescued mid-stream. Speaking about these stewardship days, one student shared “it was a really cool opportunity to help out the community in ways that I might not have normally done.” Another said “they were really fun and informative — I liked how we were able to use those experiences to help us in our project”. Their efforts were even covered in the Skagit Valley Herald.
Of course, the main focus of the YEP! program is the collaborative action project chosen and coordinated by the students in each cohort. Here’s the scoop about their projects related to carbon sinks:
Whatcom cohort: Planting trees for the climate
Given how much they enjoyed being outdoors and working with plants during the stewardship days, these students chose to continue the theme for their action project. So they partnered with NSEA to co-host a tree planting work party along Squalicum Creek. Gabby Boyson, Environmental Stewardship Associate through AmeriCorps, helped the students organize the event and the group created a flyer to recruit other student volunteers. Then on a cold afternoon, just after the historic flooding in November, these young climate activists planted 28 trees with the help of other passionate youth from Ferndale High School. “Making a difference can be fun and help you learn more about yourself,” shared a YEP! participant.
Skagit cohort: Raising awareness in the community
Through exploration of carbon sinks (a natural system that can limit climate change by storing carbon from the atmosphere, the Skagit students discovered the Kulshan Carbon Trust, a new non-profit in Skagit and Whatcom counties working to support different forms of carbon sequestration. After a visit from co-founder Jessa Clark with the KCT, the students came up with the idea of creating a brochure about the organization that would help stakeholders in their community learn about this new non-profit and why their local work matters. Thoughts from an empowered YEP! student: “At the beginning, planning a project felt overwhelming. I wondered how we would make a project that would have an impact. Especially when overall, everything is so bad. But then, thinking about how something small like even the brochure we made could help connect a bunch of people and then make an impact is cool.” See their project here.
After a summer of wildfire smoke and a fall of flooding, these motivated young people found hope and inspiration in local climate action. In the words of a wise student, “everything matters no matter how small”. Exactly.