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|FEDERAL GOVERNMENT VOLUNTEER PROGRAMS
Old Lands, New Voices
Have you YELed today? Before you answer, consider that YELing is something that involves more than your vocal cords. Consider YELing as the act of making a conscience-based decision. Consider every action you take - buying groceries, driving to work, or even how you spend your free time - as a chance to YEL.
Over the past three years, Presidio-based Crissy Field Center has been home to Inspiring Young Emerging Leaders (I-YEL), one of the nation's most innovative environmental youth leadership programs. Each year, I-YEL challenges 15 high school youth to look at their communities and everyday actions and reflect on the impact they make. I-YEL brings fresh energy and new voices to the movement to protect our natural resources.
By connecting the protection and conservation of natural resources to neighborhood and community environmental problems, I-YEL meets the challenge of engaging people from diverse populations and cultures in the environmental movement and in our national parks. Bringing relevance to environmental issues that are often stereotyped as being "privileged problems" unconnected to the social struggles many families face, I-YEL and the Crissy Field Center build bridges to Bay Area communities that traditionally have had little, if any, access to the resources of their national parks.
Each year, I-YEL interns conceive, develop, and implement a project addressing an environmental issue that has an impact on their communities. In 2002, the project was a video series, Energy Crisis Unplugged, which was selected by the group as their response to a growing demand to drill and mine for fossil fuels in our national parks, notably Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The process of choosing and designing a project challenges young people to investigate and understand all aspects of an issue (e.g., social, political, economical) and use multiple perspectives. In the first segment of Energy Crisis Unplugged, the focus is on the current state of nonrenewable resources, including the effects they have on our environment and communities. The next segment speculates on the consequences of continued reliance on fossil fuels. The final segment suggests what a sustainable worldone that used only renewable sources of energy, such as solar or wind powerwould look like. The video series, which can be viewed on I-YEL's website, http://www.iyel.org, has been used in workshops and classrooms all over the Bay Area.
In addition to implementing a YEL project, interns participate in interpretive programs, restoration projects, and environmental leadership trainings throughout the year. These hands-on experiences introduce them to the parks' many environmental issues and teach them the skills they need to respond with creative solutions. Over time, I-YEL interns begin to connect to the Center and to the parks, which encourages a strong sense of belonging and ownership. With new skills and confidence, they are empowered to create positive change and become lifetime supporters of their national parks.
I-YEL's success can be attributed to the trust and respect given to its participants. They are asked to discuss, brainstorm, and make decisions about major aspects of the program. The interns, who are given a high degree of responsibility, organize almost all aspects of the program, such as budget tracking budget, website updating, and interviewing and selecting new participants. These responsibilities and expectations help develop professional job skills that the youth can take with them into the future.
It is the Center's objective to one day have this talented and diverse group of youth serve our national parks. In the four years since I-YEL was created, six of the program's graduates have come back to work in the parks as camp counselors, instructors, and administrative staff. Of course, not all I-YEL youth will become NPS rangers and professionals in the environmental field, but we know that their year-long experience dramatically affects the way they, and their families, think about and interact with their environment. Regardless of the careers they choose, I-YEL youth carry the values of interconnection, equality, and sustainability with them into the future. And, extending the message, they will lead a new generation to YEL for their environment and YEL for their national parks.
The Crissy Field Center is a partnership of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and the National Park Service. If you have questions about I-YEL, please contact Michele Gee at: firstname.lastname@example.org or Ernesto Pepito at: email@example.com, or visit http://www.iyel.org.
By Ernesto Pepito and Michele Gee
Interested in more information? Check out our online bookstore for: "Megatrends in Volunteerism," by Sue Vineyard.
This month's article was submitted by Terry Kreidler, Volunteer/Training Specialist at Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco, California. She can be contacted at: (415) 561-4756, by email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.nps.gov/goga/vip/.
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