On a chilly Friday afternoon in Washington, D.C., local employees, partners, and visitors took refuge from the cold outside for a special film-screening event in USDA’s Jefferson Auditorium, “Engaging the Next Generation of Conservation Stewards.”
Five short films debuted to an audience of more than 80 partners and guests. This point, in itself, may have you wondering, “So What?” However, it’s the goal of the films and the potential for affecting the lives of young people that make this an important event.
The videos aimed to illustrate the importance of engaging youth in conservation, and inspiring the next generation of environmental leaders. The films displayed a variety of recreational, service, volunteer, and work experiences, while illustrating the community, career, and cultural benefits of exposing youth to the outdoors.
“It’s really important for people to understand the value of places like this, but it’s also good to take that ethic back to your communities too,” said Levi Novey of the Corps Network, who led a group of inner-city Baltimore youth with CivicWorks on an expedition to the Boulder-White Clouds area.
Many of the young people featured in the films shared that these were their first time experiencing the great outdoors, and the impact this had on their perception for conservation and public land stewardship. In one video, for example, a network of Latinos advocating for the health of the Colorado River led a group of Latino youth on an adventure of a lifetime navigating the river through the Grand Canyon with the goal of influencing Latinos to be future advocates for the river.
“Feeling the water is a slap in the face with our history, with our culture, and it’s just wonderful,” said Rosalia Salazar of Las Vegas.
Others even mentioned how these experiences exposed them to career options they had not previously considered, expressing aspirations of working with the Forest Service, and other federal public land agencies.
“Being to a place like this [brings] a difference in people. I see a connection between what I do and coming [here],” said Jamaal Weems of CivicWorks in Baltimore. “The connection is how to keep the environment a place where people can come at peace, a safe environment, a safe place… If it was up to me, I would do my best to help protect the environment because this is a beautiful place.”
Interspersed between films were remarks made by USDA Under Secretary Robert Bonnie, speakers from the U.S. Department of Interior, The Corps Network, Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, AmeriCorps, Student Conservation Association, and a young corps participant. The videos were unique because they presented diversity of people, places, and projects. The films aimed to demonstrate the honest and transformative experiences of the next generation of diverse conservation leaders, many from minority backgrounds.
“For a lot of these youth, [they] are marginalized in society and they don’t have that many opportunities like this [so] I think it means that much more to them. Culturally, it’s part of their genetic memory…is that memory and that connection to the land and that appreciation of nature. I feel a re-introduction to that part of themselves and that part of their story” said Jesus “Chucho” Ruiz of Chicanos por la Causa.
The films advocate for a strong work ethic from the participants, indicating that their work and service not only benefits them today, but will help to preserve those benefits for future generations to come.
“Films like this are critically important, because they convey to viewers the positive impact of engaging with youth and veterans. They highlight the key contributions these people provide to 21 CSC programs, and, critically, demonstrate how these programs can shape the lives of participants in a constructive and rewarding way. Both viewers and participants are exposed to life changing experiences they will never forget,” said Meryl Harrell of USDA.
The hope is that the participants will share their experiences with others, and continue to develop themselves as stewards of the land.
Visit The Corps Network website to view the short films.