Heartland Conservation Alliance connects people to nature. People of all ages and abilities enjoy higher levels of health and well being when they have nature nearby, according to the American Public Health Association. Green spaces are an important part of the urban environment and are influential to the physical and mental health of the residents. At Heartland Conservation Alliance, we want people in urban areas to have ample opportunities to interact with nature in their own neighborhoods. “You can’t save what you don’t love, and you can’t love what you don’t know.” With this need to increase interactions with nature in mind, Heartland Conservation Alliance has started a pilot environmental stewardship program at East High School. The program, called Green Guard, gives urban residents an opportunity to know, love, and be inspired by nature. Green Guard connects youth and adults to the natural resources in their own neighborhood and teaches them how to take care of them. Our partners strengthen this program by providing their expertise and resources to train the stewards. Goals of the program are to protect and restore natural resources in urban neighborhoods, provide our partner organizations with skilled volunteers from diverse neighborhoods, and enhance the quality of life by increasing access to nature. The past two weeks, stewards have learned about mapping and GPS and common Missouri animals before heading outside to explore the woods and look for signs of wildlife. Today, stewards are learning more about land use and vacant lots. Through the rest of the semester, stewards will learn about leadership and community organizing, plants and invasive species, and water and rain gardens. Stewards will plan and complete a site improvement project at the end of the semester. “It’s an exciting opportunity to explore the woods together,” Partnership Coordinator Brianna Leiker said. “We get to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air while discovering places like a classroom area hidden in the trees and paths worn down in the tall grass by the animals who live there.” Green Guard provides stewards with opportunities to learn and grow through hands-on, service-learning opportunities. Stewards also interact with environmental professionals in Kansas City as our partners lead the classes and act as mentors. Stewards develop skills that will help them continue to care for the natural environment. Site adoption is an important part of the Green Guard process. East High School was selected as the pilot site because the overgrown 13 acres of woods on the school property are a great opportunity for improvement. The East High student stewards earn service hours that count toward their requirement for graduation as well as a stipend funded by The Black and Veatch Foundation. This program puts Heartland Conservation Alliance’s mission into action. Stewards will protect natural resources, connect with nature, and understand the importance of doing both. Green Guard creates stewards who can work in green jobs in their community and beyond. The stewardship efforts will not only benefit individual stewards but it will allow the stewards to transfer their skills and passion to friends and family. Together with our partners, we are leading Kansas City residents to know nature, to love nature, and to save nature.