The Will Steger Foundation is honored to be a recipient of 2013 Hennepin County Green Partners Environmental Education Program funding to expand and deepen our Youth Environmental Activists of Minnesota (YEA! MN) program. Hennepin County provides funding and support to organizations to implement projects that empower residents to reduce waste, increase recycling, reduce toxicity, conserve energy and protect water quality.
A core program of the Will Steger Foundation, YEA! MN supports a network of high school environmental clubs working together across the Twin Cities Metro Area to empower student leadership on climate change solutions, facilitate shared skills and strategies, and take coordinated action at home, at school, and in the wider community. The YEA! MN network includes 25+ public, private and charter high schools from a cross-section of urban and suburban districts.
The YEA! MN program is unique in its bottom-up approach to youth engagement and behavior change. While many youth programs rely on an adult driven approach, we intentionally create opportunities for student choice and leadership in shaping the direction of their school projects and throughout the YEA! MN program. As a result, our students launch authentically youth-driven campaigns, giving their message and outcomes even more power.
YEA! MN has grown tremendously over the past five years, from a loose network of high school environmental clubs, to a well-structured program engaging over 20 high schools across the metro area. Between 2011-2013, through partnership with the Center for Energy and Environment, we further developed the program to mentor ten of these high schools on student-led action projects, four related to energy efficiency. Student leaders from these ten schools make up the YEA! MN Steering Committee, helping plan and facilitate program activities.
Funding from the Green Partners Environmental Education Program will allow us to pursue the goal of deepening and expanding our mentorship of high school environmental clubs in Hennepin County. Experience has taught us that mentorship is a critical ingredient to the success of student-led action projects. Many of our YEA! MN schools have struggled with choosing a realistic or impactful project, encountered challenges with building a strong school team, or how to create peer buy-in. Many school clubs lack an attentive adult advisor and many of our youth operate completely on their own. Some school clubs experience major breakthroughs and gains, only to loose all momentum with the graduation of their charismatic student leader.
Our program strategies include consistent contact with environmental clubs to help identify projects and map implementation, as well as direct mentorship for club leaders through their participation in the YEA! MN Steering Committee. Our behavior change outcomes include a measurable increase in student motivation to assume leadership roles to educate and engage their peers, and commitment to pro-environmental behaviors including waste reduction, energy conservation, and recycling/composting, reaching over 1000 people in Hennepin County.
You can learn more about the YEA! MN program online at www.willstegerfoundation.org/yeamn and follow student blogs on the Will Steger Foundation homepage.