Summit helps make today's youth 'greener'


Youth see the difference between how much call is used for three different types of lights at the Gainesville Loves Mountains project station during the Green Generation Environmental Youth Summit at GRUĂ­s Eastside Operations Center, in Gainesville Saturday Nov. 16, 2013.

Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, November 16, 2013 at 8:37 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, November 16, 2013 at 8:37 p.m.

While planting seeds is important for the environment, the Green Generation Environmental Youth Summit planted a different kind of seed in the minds of youths — that of environmental awareness.

The Cultural Arts Coalition held its fourth annual Green Generation Environmental Youth Summit at GRU’s Eastside Operations Center on Saturday. The event brought environmental organizations and youths together to raise environmental awareness and involvement throughout the community.

The purpose of the summit is to offer young people information about why they should be interested in taking care of the environment, while also offering them an opportunity to get involved and gain community service hours through a project, said NKwanda Jah, the coalition’s executive director.

“I think it’s just a good thing to teach our kids ways that they should be engaged in taking care of our natural resources,” she said. “And when they become adults, they’ll be better than we are. We’ve not done a good job and we’re still in denial about a lot of things. It’s got to turn the other way at some point, and I’m hoping that our young people are going to be doing that. They’re more open to it — they get it.”

The event’s keynote speaker, Cara Keller, a University of Florida civil engineering student and GRU water and wastewater department intern, shared the personal story of how she came to get involved with community service at a young age.

As a high school freshman, she took a school trip to Costa Rica, where she volunteered in a Nicaraguan refugee camp. There, she saw how drastically different their lifestyle was, especially the camp’s lack of clean water and proper sewage, she said.

She went on to explain how she carried the experience through her education and about how she eventually worked with others to build a nutrition center at the camp.

“That was my personal experience, but I think because of that I realize how important it is to start here and to protect the things that we have,” she said in an interview after her speech. “And to protect the things that have already been put in place for us by previous generations.”

Two student panels comprising members of Gainesville Job Corps, UF IDEAS and the coalition’s environmental ambassadors first addressed why attendees should get involved, which had those on the panel sharing their personal experiences and providing facts about the environment.

Meanwhile, the second panel offered information about how participants could get involved at the personal level through conservation and working with others at the community level.

Then participants filed into another room where participating organizations set up tables to provide information about service programs that each was offering — programs ranging from volunteer cleanup activities and community gardening to petitioning and internship opportunities.

Participants then discuss a project that can be completed anytime between Saturday’s summit and Earth Day.

The summit was originally held at Westside Park with about 55 youths in attendance. Last year, however, the coalition moved it to the GRU facility and saw about 160 youths.

This year, 95 youths were involved. But, according to Jah, involvement is still up.

“When we began, it was adult representatives of the organizations (who) did the planning,” she said. “This year there were a couple meetings where students outnumbered adults on the coordinating committee. They’ve been there from the beginning all the way through ... they’re doing everything this year.”

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