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© Lora Denis
When I was in high school, I had a teacher who was very environmentally conscious and encouraged my green side. I went to high school in the early 1970’s when general interest in the environment was low. We didn’t get to do fun things like plant trees or conduct cleanups. Instead, we encouraged students to bring in their cans and bottles for recycling, as there was no such thing as a blue box then.
My experience with that teacher was transformational. I completed the Environmental Studies program at the University of Waterloo. Thirty five years later I am still working and volunteering in the environmental field.
The issues of the day may have changed in 35 years, but what hasn’t is the potential for one experience to change a life. Inspirational issues and people have the potential to help us realize a dream or develop a passion. Our youth must be exposed to opportunities to develop their passion.
Ontario Nature and Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) offer programs to ignite that spark in young people from all backgrounds. For high school students, CVC has a Conservation Youth Corps (CYC) program that allows students to volunteer with a variety of environmental projects, and Ontario Nature has a Youth Council that guides its youth programming. Ontario Nature’s Youth Council hosts an annual summit, spearheads a pollinator campaign and organizes conservation activities across the province.
Some CYC participants go on to become ‘Frontliners’ to learn more about environmental issues, leadership and stewardship, while many Ontario Nature Youth Council alumni are now pursuing an education in a conservation-related field. These Frontliners and Youth Council members are our next generation of environmental professionals.
Last fall, the Ontario Nature Youth Council was a finalist for the Canadian Museum of Nature’s Nature Inspiration Award. And this spring, the Frontline program was honoured with the Lt. Governor’s Ontario Heritage Award for Youth Achievement. These passionate students deserve opportunities to develop their skills and start their networks. It is time for us to help youth become the next generation of environmental professionals. We are going to need them.