As some of you know, one of the things that I'm passionate about is youth engagement.
Through the Maytree Foundation's DiverseCity onBoard initiative, I was fortunate to have been asked to serve on the Board of Directors for Ontario Nature. At the 78th Annual General Meeting a few weeks ago, I was asked to present the Youth Writing Awards for 2008-2009. Having this opportunity to present, I made some remarks on the importance of youth engagement for Ontario Nature, which I feel can be applicable for other organizations.
Here is an excerpt of my remarks prior to the presentation of the awards:
It is my honour and pleasure to be able to present the winners of Ontario Nature’s 4th Annual Youth Writing Contest. When I was first approached to sit on the Board, I was immediately drawn toward the many Ontario Nature programs that incorporated youth involvement, such as the Youth Writing Contest, Youth Nature Camps and Volunteer for Nature programs that emphasized family-type programming.
In the last year, Ontario Nature, in conjunction with its many partners, has further expanded its youth programming through initiatives such as “From the Ground Up” and “Youth Leadership”.
I think these initiatives to increase youth involvement have yielded great results so far, and if anyone has any ideas to increase what we can do to involve youths in helping to conserve nature in this province, feel free to share these ideas with Ontario Nature staff, or Board members that are in attendance today.
I would also encourage everyone here to take time to engage youth members at upcoming events. Start a conversation, share your own experiences and learn about theirs. Who knows, you might just provide that spark that opens the door to a life-long nature experience.
The Youth Writing Contest is part of the Ontario Nature Youth Challenge. Sponsored by our partners, Waste Management and Mountain Equipment Co-op, the Ontario Nature Youth Writing Challenge was open to students in grades 7 and 8 across Ontario. This year’s topic: “Every day we make choices that could help or harm our environment. What are you doing that has a positive impact on our environment?”
The essay winners were chosen by a selection committee consisting of Stephanie Foster, former Ontario Nature Board Member, David Robinson, Mountain Equipment Co-op and Clare Mitchell, Ontario Nature staff member. There were over 170 entries from across the province and it was difficult to choose amongst the essays. We thank everyone who made a submission, and we encourage each and every one of them to stay involved. In the end, five essays were chosen to be honoured.
It is my hope that all organizations (and their members within it) take the time to evaluate how they can involve youth in the activities that they deliver where applicable. Get youth involved early and let them show off their new ideas and perspectives. I can't understate how this is such an empowering feeling which will further their level of engagement. I can speak from personal experience on this front.
It may be difficult at first to determine the best way forward, but the rewards can be so great, both for the organization and most of all, the youth.