HCA's Partnership Summit Panelists from left to right (Chandler, La'Nya, Celesteal, Yassi and Jim) by: Dignified Digital Photography.
“I want more opportunities for my voice to be heard,” shared Celesteal Clark, HCA Youth Council member and panelist at HCA’s Fifth Annual Partnership Summit. Celesteal was joined by panelists Yassi Armer, life-time volunteer with Project Blue River Rescue; La’Nya Buford, Green Guard Steward; and Chandler Little Eagle, AmeriCorps VISTA. Each shared stories of events and experiences that ignited their passion for the environment.
The annual event was held this year on Tuesday 10/30/18 at Boulevard Brewery and was attended by a record-breaking 159. Each year, Heartland Conservation Alliance and the Partnership Work Group hosts this free event to celebrate collaborative accomplishments in conserving and restoring our natural landscapes around the Kansas City area. The panel was moderated by Partnership Work Group member, Jim Armer, and reflected this year’s theme: Hope for Future Urban Conservation. He invited the young speakers from middle school to post-college to share ideas how conservation organizations and advocates can support and encourage the next generation to be leaders in the movement.
“I found a connection with nature and places where I could find refuge as a high school student,” explained Celesteal. She said grew aware and concerned about the trash polluting her oasis. She said this fueled her desire to change the minds of those polluting. Today she is pursuing an environmental science degree at University of Missouri-Kansas City where she has become a leader in conservation and environmental justice.
“I have learned so much about the environment through the Green Guard,” explained La’Nya Buford, a high school sophomore participating in an after-school Green Guard Stewardship training program. “I think organizations have to have more opportunities for us to learn like this.”
She shared that the program expanded her awareness of how trash and litter affect her life and her community. She is excited to know that she can take small steps and still make a large difference by picking up trash. She encourages people around her not to litter in the first place.
“I am here because my dad made me,” said Yassi Armer with a grin. “I have grown up caring for nature with my dad and my family.” A middle-schooler, Yassi shared that having parents show him the importance of caring for the environment is reflected in how he sees his world.
Chandler Little Eagle, who is serving with AmeriCorps VISTA, spoke of the need for more summer internships and mentor programs for those who have identified conservation as their possible career paths.
“I changed my major in college after returning from visiting Standing Rock,” Little Eagle shared. “For me it was important to become more involved in this fight for our resources and I was given that chance with a summer internship offered at HCA.” She recently graduated from University of Missouri-Kansas City with her Bachelor's of Arts in Environmental Studies and Minors in Sustainability, Geography and History.
The panelists pointed out the need for organizations to connect youth to their work and to environmental issues in a considered and organization-wide way. We make leaders of the future by ensuring they have a seat at the decision-making table today, where they can see how decisions are made and lend thoughts on new ways of bettering our processes.
Their advice stuck with me because I realize that listening is an act of respect. It is an act of empowerment and it gives agency to the person being heard. These are the building blocks of forming future leaders. This coming year, I encourage you to join me in a pledge to listen more, especially to our youth. I pledge to empower individuals by hearing what they say and responding to their expressed words rather than imposing my agenda onto them. I pledge to listen.
What can you or your organization do to strengthen the future of urban conservation? What pledge will you take this year?
HCA Partnership Summit 2018. Courtesy of Dignified Digital Photography.