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Kids for a greener world.

Feeling hopeless about the state of the environment? Check out the energy of the 1,000 young people who will gather in July in Cincinnati.

No doubt you've heard it said that we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors but rather borrow it from our children. But "borrow" implies that children were consulted before the loan was made. Many of them say they're not content to settle for a fraction of the natural resources adults have borrowed, with interest paid in the form of pollution, waste, and crowding.

To put it another way: kids can't play soccer underground. Playing soccer may sound like a far cry from environmental correctness, but that thought--spawned by a discussion of an uninhabitable earth--led first to the formation of an activist youth group and later to the first by-kids, for-kids National Youth Environmental Summit.

The Summit, with the theme Partners for the Planet Branching Out, will be held July 16-18 at the Cincinnati convention center. Planned and conducted by boys and girls 10 to 18, the Summit will connect, educate, and empower 1,000 young environmentalists who wish to preserve the principal on their "loan."

A year in the planning, the Summit will also launch a program, called Trees Across America (TAA), in which youth groups initiate projects such as tree planting, recycling, and backyard composting.

As a condition of attendance, all Summit participants must sign pledges to start TAA projects in the environmental field of their choice. At the conference, participants will attend a series of workshops related to their TAA project. The workshops, covering environmental topics ranging from forest and endangered-species preservation to pollution control, will be conducted by kids, some with adult partners.

This is a meeting about looking forward, not looking back. "The purpose of this summit is to seek solutions and implementation, not to sit in judgment of others involved... No pointing fingers," the co-chairperson says.

Tara Church, now 14, was one of the Brownies who listened in 1987 as a discussion of the long-term effects of disposable dishes led to leaders describing a group researching options for underground living quarters after the earth became uninhabitable. Moved to action, the El Segundo, California, troop planted a sycamore--Marcie the Marvelous Tree--on city property.

"After the planting, I thought about Marcie, how big she'd grow, and how much good that one tree could do in the future," Tara says. "Realizing how much one individual could accomplish by planting one tree gave me a sense of power I didn't have before. I had realized how much I cared about the environment, but I didn't feel my individual efforts could make a difference until that moment."

She and other troop members went on to form Tree Musketeers, enlisting boys and girls of all ages in their efforts. Eventually they would put a border of trees between their hometown and a nearby airport and find homes for thousands of seedlings. They wrote the city council to request the reinstatement of Arbor Day and established El Segundo's first recycling center.

In 1991, Tree Musketeers was the only youth group on the Steering Committee for the Fifth National Urban Forestry Conference, convened in Los Angeles that fall. Tara says she thought then how nice it would be "to have a summit of our own, just for kids."

She made that wish in the presence of a U.S. Forest Service rep, Robert Conrad, who took the idea back to Washington. The Forest Service provided Tree Musketeers with a grant to organize the Summit. Tara and fellow Tree Musketeer Tammy Smith, also 14, act as co-chairs. Additional funding came from the National Association of State Foresters and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The steering committee for the Summit includes representatives from 11 youth groups around the country--from neighborhood projects to multinational agencies. The reps are supported by hardworking adult partners, some from the youth organizations and others from adult groups.

Also represented on the committee are youth groups created and run by adults to empower youth and allow them to take action on behalf of the environment. Several youth forestry groups are represented as well.

"This Summit gives me a sense of hope that someday we won't be living inside and walking from skyscraper to skyscraper," says Mason Poe, 16, the representative for Kids For A Clean Environment (Kids F.A.C.E.).

Kids F.A.C.E. was started by Mason's sister Melissa, who in 1989 saw a television show that depicted a future in which people wore gas masks to go outside.

"I was really scared, and I wanted somebody to fix it for me," says Melissa, then nine years old. "At that time I didn't think I could do much by myself, so I wrote to the President. I thought he could just fix it. That isn't how it turned out."

By the time President Bush's answer arrived 12 weeks later, Melissa had already begun calling advertising agencies. Soon thereafter her letter pleaded eloquently from 250 billboards nationwide.

"I realized that if I wanted something done, I was going to have to do it myself," she says. "I started Kids For A Clean Environment... We had six members, and we started recycling, planting trees, and learning about the environment."

Calls from other concerned children began pouring in, and Melissa suggested they start their own Kids F.A.C.E. chapters. "Now Kids F.A.C.E. has 110,000 members from all over the nation and several foreign countries," she says. Kids F.A.C.E. is working with another youth group, CAPE (Children's Alliance for the Protection of the Environment), and the Forest Service to create "children's forests" in the national forests (see "The National Children's Forest," page 32).

Preserving or restoring earth's forests and other ecosystems is a formidable task. Though they're eager to help, boys and girls can view their individual efforts as being akin to fighting a forest fire with a squirt gun. Fortunately, with programs such as the children's forests there are ways in which young people can take collective action to protect and preserve forests.

CAPE links children on five continents in beach cleanups and the establishment of a Children's Rain Forest on 2,500 acres in Costa Rica. Together with Kids F.A.C.E., CAPE established a Children's Forest at Mt. Hood, Washington, at the suggestion of member Courtney Collins, 12, of Austin, Texas.

CAPE is represented at the Summit by Erika Chan, 18, of Austin. As an ambassador, she is responsible for outreach, contacting corporations and government agencies to win support for CAPE projects.

Tree Amigos is a project of the Center for Environmental Studies, AMERICAN FORESTS' Global ReLeaf partner in Costa Rica. Working with youth in several countries, they have raised more than $200,000 for purchasing or reforesting rainforest acreage in Costa Rica. Tree Amigos has established tree nurseries in the United States and abroad to raise trees for plantings.

The work that these groups are doing is a good example of the kind of commitment young people are making to help protect the environment. Between them, the groups represented on the steering committee have won three dozen national and international awards and represent 140,000 members, 446 chapters, 50 states, and 35 countries.

And if pre-Summit business meetings are any indication, this is a good group to hold the planet's future in its hands. At a meeting in Cincinnati, committee members listened to and considered each opinion with respect, regardless of the speaker's age. It was as though exuberant boys and girls had ducked into separate telephone booths and emerged as businesslike young men and women.

At that meeting, members wrestled with some challenging issues, such as balancing their ambitious goals against available funds, and evaluating environmental policies of potential corporate sponsors.

"We make our own decisions," said Tree Amigos' rep Marisol Cruz of Grand Rapids, Michigan, her brown eyes lighting up with excitement. "When we have projects at school, the teachers ask us what we want, and then they come back with what they want. Here we have a lot of control."

From the lobby of the Clarion Hotel in Cincinnati, where the kids stayed in complimentary rooms, I watched as the youngest member, 11-year-old Quintrail Lambert of Richmond, Virginia's Arbor Club, and a few others browsed through a gift shop, then raced off for a snack. In the four days they had spent together at committee meetings in Los Angeles and Cincinnati, these boys and girls had forged bonds apparently as strong as those they transcend: age, culture, neighborhood, economics, and social group.

"We get along even better than I expected," said Tara. "I know it can be hard for groups with different agendas to unite for one goal, and I'm impressed at how well it has worked."

The committee is a wealth of geographic, ethnic, and economic diversity, and while that's nothing new to members like Miguel Diaz, who represents the Los Angeles chapter of Conservation Career Development Program, for others it's a welcome change.

"I like the chance to work with people of different races and cultures," said Charles Tate, 14, representative of the Natural Guard. "Where I live now, I don't get that chance." Before moving to his present homogeneous African-American neighborhood in New Haven, Connecticut, Charles had lived in an ethnically mixed neighborhood and said he misses that diversity now.

"In a large city, the diversity is there," Miguel agreed. "But on this committee we have people from all types of places, and we're learning how cultures are different, but also how much they're the same." Echoed Lisa Bishop, the blond-haired, blue-eyed state president of Associated Oregon Forestry Clubs: "My town has 500 people, with very few minorities... Here, people of all ethnic groups pass each other without notice. Everyone is like everyone else."

Though the meetings involve the usual tedious details, the Summiteers never lose sight of or enthusiasm for their basic goals. The common threads are awareness and action.

"It's been a real maturing and eye-opening experience, working with the environment, planning the Summit," said Earth Kids' Kristen Shuyler, 17, of Salem, Oregon.

"Because we are all good friends, we can work closely together and we appreciate everybody else's views," said 16-year-old Rebecca Ottman, who came from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to represent the International Society of Arboriculture.

Mason Poe wants youth to understand and be ready to tackle the problems, both large and small, and to recognize that, "It's all the small stuff that adds up to the big problems."

Young members of Earth Kids, operators of an international kids' environmental computer network, will connect the conference via an international computer network to remote international and national locations from which many additional kids can be involved in conference content.

"I want kids leaving the Summit to thoroughly understand the problems in the world and not gloss over them," Kristen said, "but also to know that they can do something about the problems."

FFA district vice president Steven Wentworth, 18, of Ohio, echoed that sentiment. "We have the power and the technology to solve these problems if people are motivated and work together."

Kathie Leier from the Minnesota Conservation Corps agreed. "There are limitations, but there are ways to go around those limitations. You have to take care of your earth in order to have it--not just now, but for years to come."

"I hope the Summit will help us get through to the grownups and to the kids smaller than us what's happening to the environment," Charles said, "and help them save it before it's too late for their children and their children and their children!"


Government and other forestry groups give kids an opportunity to enjoy the wilderness and participate in preservation and restoration of forests and wilderness. Even more important for some of today's youth, some offer jobs. One such group is Commencement 2000, a U.S. Forest Service project for historically underrepresented minority youth.

Summit representative Kimani Birden, 18, has seen the project change the lives of inner-city youth as well as the environment. A job lured Kimani to the forest, where he found his soul.

"The city of Oakland was a place of sorrow--cold cement, cold people, a cold place" and a sharp contrast to the "awesome" forest. "Can you imagine? I was used to city lights, and all of a sudden there were no lights. I could see stars... that's just one of the beautiful things I saw and learned that elevated my heart.

"What struck me was that there were all these trees--you know, trees! Big green ones! Got a river to my back, sometimes a little Bambi running across the road." He laughed. "I'd think, 'Hey, a Bambi--not a stray dog--a Bambi.'

"Bobcats, cougars, owls, and all kinds of wildlife. It was wondrous--you know what I'm saying?"

Another Commencement 2000 fan, David Ruiz, 12, knows perfectly well what Kimani's saying. The representative of the Hoopa tribe, David lives amid the mountains and forests that surround his northern California reservation. "It's peaceful," he said. "There are animals to watch, and you don't ever get bored."

Kimani has vowed to take what he learned in the forest back to urban youth and plans to be a botanist, attending college with support from Commencement 2000. His major goal at the Summit and in his work is to "help make urban youth a resource in the fight for the environment. We are thirsty, not just for jobs but to be a contributing part of the community and the movement."
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Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Urban Forests: The Youth Summit
Author:Keeler, Barbara
Publication:American Forests
Date:May 1, 1993
Previous Article:Restoring a "grass-roots" forest.
Next Article:Alder Music.

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