We can inspire more kids in more communities to get involved in using their voices to protect national parks. It is a win-win-win for the organizers, the youth, and the parks!
Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of watching young students from urban Miami eager and excited to get involved in protecting the national parks in their area. Just a few months ago, many of these remarkable kids had never even been to the Everglades and Biscayne. Now they were dedicating seven hours on a precious summer Saturday to thinking about threats to their local ecosystems and ways to make their civic voices heard!
The workshop was the capstone event organized through a partnership between NPCA’s Sun Coast Regional Office and the local organization Mahogany Youth, which empowers young people with positive opportunities to make a difference. Over the last several months, we organized trips for 50 young people ages 13 to 30 to go fishing along the Tamiami Trail canal near Everglades National Park and boating in Biscayne National Park. Many of these youth come from underprivileged areas in and around Miami. Few had ever experienced the national parks in South Florida. Most never even knew these places existed.
After going out to experience the beauty and sheer fun of visiting these parks, we organized a final advocacy workshop on July 20 for the eight participants who self-identified as being most interested in learning how they could help make a difference.
We spent the day sharing information on the threats facing Miami-area parks, brainstorming solutions, building leadership confidence, and scheduling meetings with state and local representatives on park-related issues. The goal was not just to help the parks, but to also empower young people, encourage their love and exploration of nature, and emphasize that they have a right to meet with their elected representatives on the issues that matter to them.
In the process, NPCA learned some important lessons:
- Partnerships matter. NPCA worked extensively with Mahogany Youth to build a program that would be relevant and fun for the people involved, and each organization brought important skills and resources to the table. Smart planning with a well-chosen partner helped make the experience worthwhile for everyone, not just the participants.
- Going to the parks again and again reinforces their importance. There is no way this training would have meant anything to the participants had they not actually seen the parks, met with rangers, and talked extensively with NPCA staff. Going not just once but several times kept the kids inspired and allowed the dialogue around park issues to deepen.
- Buy-in is critical. This was not a mandatory event required by student counselors. Participants chose to become involved; some took multiple forms of public transportation, traveling for miles on a Saturday morning to learn how to become an advocate for the parks.
- Program agendas must be dynamic. We structured the workshops with very few presentations and a strong focus on small group work, engaging youth in role playing and activities rather than one-way lectures.
- We can inspire more kids in more communities. Miami is an excellent place to get kids involved in park protection, but plenty of partnerships around the country could support youth involvement in places that matter. It is a win-win-win for the organizers, the youth, and the parks!
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“It was fun to see the youth really eager to get involved using their voices and exercising their civic rights to protect national parks,” said Kahlil Kettering, NPCA’s Biscayne restoration program analyst, who was one of the lead trainers and organizers putting the project together along with Senior Program Coordinator Jacqueline Crucet. He added, “Learning leadership skills and how to be advocates will help these kids to take stances on other issues in their lives as well—there were so many benefits for everyone involved.”
About the author
Hayley Mortimer Former Vice President of Regional Operations
Hayley Mortimer offers over twenty years of experience incubating and scaling up innovative solutions that meet a pressing public need. She currently manages our field program as Vice President of Regional Operations, which includes 55+ staff across the country.