Without question, there’s something to be said for being
needed. Once it was Uncle Sam in his star-spangled hat calling on
Americans to fight for their country; once it was John Lennon, with
his flowing hair and perpetually peace sign-shaped fingers
imploring us to “give peace a chance”; and now, in this
post-world war, post-draft, post-projected apocalypse era, it is a
new figure begging for the help of the youth. Mother Nature (by way
of scientists and eco-activists) is reaching out to young people to
help solve one of America’s most increasingly concerning
issues. According to Dave Bauer, founder of Sustainable Earth
Solutions Inc., “If environmental change does not occur from
this generation, it will not occur.”
Bauer’s Young Adult Environmental Leadership Program
(YAELP), which was conceived in 2007, is designed to teach students
to heed Mother Nature’s call and become “change
agents” in their communities.
“When kids believe they can effect change, great things
start happening,” said Bauer, and indeed, that is exactly
what transpired at last weekend’s YAELP.
Born out of Bauer’s multifaceted environmental
science/teaching/creative-thinking background, YAELP provides
students an opportunity to contemplate and discuss things that
schools do not have time to teach.
All Western New York schools, along with local scout
organizations, were invited to attend this two-day conference,
which is centered around the concepts of change leadership,
creative thinking, teamwork and advocacy.
On March 1 and 2, groups of five to eight students from Health
Science Charter School, International Prep, Nichols, South Park
High School/Southside Elementary and Frank A. Sedita Elementary
gathered in Greiner Hall at the University at Buffalo’s North
Each group came into the weekend with a specific, pertinent
ecological issue they were determined to address and, through a
variety of constructive activities, concluded the program with a
narrowly tailored plan of action. In addition to a teacher/adviser,
each group of students was also assigned a professional facilitator
from the International Center for Studies in Creativity, a
little-known but one-of-a-kind program located at SUNY Buffalo
State. With the help of these facilitators, students worked their
way through potential issues that might arise in the process of
getting approval for or carrying out their plans. For example, in
one activity called “Assistors/Resistors,” the groups
identified specific people or groups that would encourage and
facilitate their plan and those that would pose a hindrance to its
fulfillment. In another activity known as “Parking
Lot,” students wrote any minor, secondary issues that arose
on a Post-it note and placed the notes on a large piece of paper,
which became a sort of way station for concerns that needed to be
addressed at some point but were too complicated for the primary
round of planning.
The object of YAELP is for each team to create a sustainable
plan for its individual community. After a few weeks, their work
will be reported, and if they have made sufficient progress, they
will receive a $500 check for the purpose of completing their
project. As time goes on, if progress continues, they will have the
opportunity to receive up to two more $100 checks to cover the
costs of their projects.
Toward the end of the second day of the program, all five groups
had to fine-tune their plans and present their individual goals and
ideas so they could receive constructive feedback from the other
adults and students present. Each group focused on its own issue
and identified the challenges they might face in setting out to
solve its problem. Health Science Charter School intends to begin
to green its community by adding plants, improving the rate of
recycling, installing a Paper Retriever recycling receptacle, and
increasing the amount of outdoor space. By doing so, they hope to
cut energy costs immediately and reduce the footprint they leave on
International Prep, having already secured a $1,150 grant for
its Rain Garden Project, hopes to find a way to receive rain
barrels, compost bins and the perennial and native Western New York
plants they have chosen to plant in the garden. Once completed, the
rain garden will consist of a shallow depression filled with
deep-rooted plants that prevents excess water from reaching nearby
Nichols plans to use all available forms of media to raise
awareness about its pre-existing relationship with Community Action
Organization (CAO) and build a greenhouse that the school could
The combination team of South Park High School and Southside
Elementary School (also known as the “Aquabuddies”)
plans to raise awareness about water pollution in its community,
South Buffalo. In six months, they hope to host an event called
“Clean Day” during which the community will dedicate an
entire day to maintaining environmental cleanliness on land and in
The students from Frank A. Sedita Elementary School intend to,
after receiving permission from their principal, begin a recycling
club, gather littering data and set forth a comprehensive list of
recyclable materials. To raise awareness and interest for this
club, they plan to create a mascot, logo, jingle and a website
complete with videos.
“There is a window in time, and if it doesn’t
happen, the world will be very different ... We need you
guys,” Bauer said.
He describes Buffalo as a city that has a tendency to
“silo” rather than share its resources.
“Cities that share resources, pool resources, progress.
People want to live there,” he said.
Bauer cherishes, therefore, the multilayered partnerships that
formed to bring YAELP into existence, and looks forward to the
progress and collaboration that the younger generation will bring.
Sustainable Earth Solutions has been working with Earth Force and
Buffalo Urban Outdoor Education (BUOE) to investigate local issues
and prepare the students to work on their projects.
Kate Hilliman, executive director of BUOE, said, “This has
been student-driven from the beginning.”
Although YAELP focuses mainly on environmental improvement,
Bauer explains that social justice undertones are most definitely
present, and the students undoubtedly were able to perceive that
aspect of the program.
Frank A. Sedita student Josha Dee Lockhart reflected on her
experience: “It feels like we have the control to say
something. We have the power to do something for once.”
Christina Seminara is a senior at Nardin Academy.