Youth Leading Climate Change Charge

By Susanne Laperle – Special to SUNonline/Orillia

Are you looking for inspiration in the fight against climate change? Orillians needn’t look any further than to local high schools, universities and colleges. Motivated young people have taken on the challenge of their lifetime trying to understand the science and the consequences of climate change for their future.

It’s no surprise across the country, around the world and right here in Orillia, youth are organizing against climate change. What is surprising is how much progress they have made. Leveraging the leadership of young people like Greta Thunberg and encouraged by academics, advocates and families, they are mobilized and emerging as a unified voice in support of their future on Earth. In doing so, they are becoming a forceful part of the present.

Despite the interruptions and workarounds the pandemic has forced over the past school year, the Sustainable Orillia Youth Council (SOYC) continues to build momentum and membership, while delivering some effective programs. In spring 2019 the SOYC launched when retired teacher and Sustainable Orillia Board Member John Knapp tapped into local high schools and enlisted three students, Emerson Garces, Luke Parna-Gile and Zac Waite to create the Council. They started with a mailing list, lots of creativity and the goal to connect Orillia’s three high schools. They developed on-the-ground programs bringingmore young people into the sustainable movement by providing tools and incentives to change behaviors on behalf of the environment.

From this standing start, the SOYC created connections with each of the local schools. They currently have close to fifty active members, a number that is increasing as their profile and reputation for getting things done travels through the local secondary and post secondary community.

Early in 2020 the Council redirected its energy and creativity to communications and virtual programming. In the fall, SOYC members developed a 40 minute webinar called Sustainable Leaders of the Future, a program designed for elementary school children.

Sustainable Leaders of the Future webinar screenshot

This initiative was produced entirely by members of the SOYC. It included videos of SOYC members discussing sustainability, nature, tree identification tips, pollinators, plus a fun segment on sustainable crafts. The goal of the SOYC was to make it enjoyable for young viewers and provide useful information, tips and encouragement to get more involved. The webinar, which was supported by teachers across the City, was viewed by hundreds of young students and received very positive feedback from students and teachers alike.  This webinar remains available for viewing on the Sustainable Orillia YouTube channel.

The webinar was just the beginning, the SOYC currently has two programs in their pipeline. The first project focuses on further informing and motivating young people of what they can do to counteract climate change. The SOYC will be producing Eco Blueprint Kits for distribution to school-age children across the city. The kits will contain an assortment of sustainable tips and tools ranging from plant seeds, craft booklets and sustainable recipes, to miniature solar cells.  Once assembled, the kits will be delivered to local elementary schools for distribution.

The SOYC is also in the early stages of planning of a very ambitious event; an environmental conference which will bring together eco-conscious groups and individuals from all over Simcoe County to explore initiatives supporting environmentalism and sustainability. It will be a day-long conference in the spring of 2022 offering many workshops and professional speakers. The working title is Sustainable Simcoe Youth Conference. Their objective is to share information and to inspire groups and individuals in our region to continue making positive, sustainable change in their communities, and join together to tackle the larger problems as well. The conference will offer leadership and learning opportunities for hundreds of local youth. It is a chance for the many people and groups to form connections and relationships that will serve them well in the future. The event is targeted for May 2022, tentatively to be held at Orillia’s Lakehead University campus. There is an excellent sponsorship opportunity for a local business or association to consider.

Sustainable Leaders of the Future webinar screenshot

SOYC leadership elections will be held again in June of this year. All interested secondary and post-secondary students are encouraged to join the Council, to lend their voice, ideas and energy to this critical movement. 

Sustainable Orillia, is very proud of the excellent work that the youth council has already achieved under very challenging conditions. With very little fanfare or prodding, these young people have gone about making things happen. They are truly leading the way in terms of commitment and creative solutions to combat climate change.  Orillia’s youth are sending a strong message the quality and security of their future is at the heart of the entire sustainable movement.  

Relatives and friends are asked to encourage the young people in their lives to join the team, and to become more involved themselves as sponsors and as supporters. They’re saying, “Together … let’s do something!”    

Contributions towards the Eco-Blueprint project are very welcome. It is also an excellent opportunity for a local business to support or sponsor the SOYC for this initiative.   Interested parties can contact the SOYC here.

(Images Supplied) Scenes from the SOYC webinar, Sustainable Leaders of the Future.


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