It was that time of year again, when over 60 motivated teens and environmental professionals from throughout the Pacific Northwest converge on the North Cascades Institute to spend the weekend learning about community action and environmental service projects. On November 9 and 10, the North Cascades Institute, National Park Service and United States Forest Service hosted the fourth annual Henry M. Jackson Youth Leadership Conference. The conference brought together former participants from regional youth stewardship programs to help them define their educational and professional goals, introduce them to new people and opportunities, and enhance their leadership skills.
One student, Tatum Kenn, described the weekend in her evaluation at the end of the conference: “LIFE CHANGING. INSPIRING. EYE OPENING.”
A break-out session titled “Cultural Competence and the Environmental Movement,” facilitated by Sarah Weigle, Program Coordinator for the Student Conservation Association, and Amy Brown, NCI’s Youth Leadership Manager. Photo by Andrew Pringle.
And BUSY. There were 11 break-out sessions, exploring everything from “Leadership Styles” and “Opportunities with the Federal Government” to “Adventures Abroad” and “Camping 101.” There was a Student Success Panel, featuring six youth leaders who shared their stories and answered questions from the audience, and an hour of student-led dialogue on topics ranging from labeling genetically-modified organisms to human population growth and sustainability. There was an Opportunity Fair, where government, non-profit and for-profit environmental leaders assembled to network with participants about future jobs, internships and programs. The following organizations all graciously attended the fair:
Additionally, Charles Thomas, Regional Manager of Youth Programs for the National Park Service Pacific West Region, flew in from California for the first day of the conference. Imagine if more national parks hosted annual events for youth leaders?
Students freewrite during a break-out session, considering questions such as, “How can you live your life to be part of the solution? What are your strengths and challenges in terms of a more sustainable lifestyle? How does your connection to the natural world influence your behavior and lifestyle?”. Photo by Aneka Singlaub.
One group hiked to the lookout spot above Buster Brown field, a perfect perch for inspiration. Photo by Aneka Singlaub.
In between such activities, participants were hiking and working on their “Action Plans” in small groups to outline their goals and objectives. The chance to get to know each other, reconnect with friends from past programs, do sunrise yoga and eat delicious food from the dining hall all made the conference a unique experience, as well.
Indeed, all these things were on the schedule, and happened, quite well. But more important is what happened in the hearts and minds of the student participants. Here is a sampling, gleaned from end-of-conference evaluations:
- From Ariel Lunsford: “I am so thankful I was given the opportunity to come to this conference. I feel like I have found what I wish to do for the rest of my life. All the staff members were awesome and I have made many new friends. Thank you, thank you, thank you for everyone who helped make this all possible.”
- From Elijah Yakimyuk: “This Conference is awesome! I gained so many resources and opportunities that made me realize that my wildest dreams now seem realistic in achieving.”
- From Marisa Etzell: “A great opportunity to meet people who have been through a similar experience as you have, as well as network and connect with organizations who are looking for people just like you to hire!”
- From Shekinah San Jose: “Take advantage of this amazing opportunity, take a risk and get out of your comfort zone, because you won’t regret it.”
- From Seth Wendzel, of Seattle Parks and Rec’s O2, Outdoor Opportunities: “The Youth Leadership Conference was a confluence of great individuals and entities. The location is one of the better locations to be in the Pacific Northwest. Being an AmeriCorps intern in Experiential and Environmental Education, I was surrounded by so many opportunities to further partnerships and prospect future career opportunities. I look forward to mentoring the two students I was paired up with and encouraging them in the real world.”
Yadira Lopez, a college student and former participant in NCI’s Cascade Climate Challenge, shared her experience as a leader during the Student Success Panel. In her evaluation, she wrote that the Youth Leadership Conference is “an awesome way to spend the weekend, and connect with old friends and new people. You learn about yourself a bit more too!” Photo by Andrew Pringle.
Tyler Nixon, another participant on the Student Success Panel and leader with Teen Science Café, advised:”Just go and find out for yourself. It is worth it.” Photo by Andrew Pringle.
Having the chance to spend the weekend with so many teens and young adults inspired to seek solutions to global problems was inspiring in itself. Jeff Giesen, Associate Director of the North Cascades Institute, reflected on the importance of these opportunities in a recent email:
“The Saturday I spent at the conference was magical….I had countless conversations today with our staff, partners and youth about how amazing it is to be in the National Park, at the Learning Center and with so many people that care….I did my spiel about us having three missions and when I got to the ‘Save the World’ part, not a single youth laughed. It made me pause. A few adults laughed, but the kids sat there in understanding. We really have created a new culture of youth, a counterculture of sorts. These kids get it. We need to do more of this kind of work.”
Katherine Renz is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. She was excited to be able to present about some aspects bioregionalism at this year’s Youth Leadership Conference.