Cleveland, Detroit, Iowa City and Minneapolis: Summer Hot Spots for Youth Climate Activism

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Summer of Solutions Detroit launches their Green Energy Economy Training in the inner-city Highland Park neighborhood

As summer temps soar across the Midwest so does youth climate activism as momentum grows at an exponential pace across the region. Power Shift 2011 was revealing as Midwest youth participation made up almost a quarter of the 10,000 youth in attendance. But if Power Shift is the indicator, youth themselves are the cause. The Midwest is home to many of the most influential young visionaries in the youth climate movement today and several of the youth initiatives and programs that have been building over the past several years have started to catch fire.

At a glance, the Midwest hosts two of the most exciting programs in country. The ripple effect from Summer of Solutions, launched in 2008 by Grand Aspirations (a youth start-up non-profit based in St Paul, MN), can be felt across the U.S. What began as a local initiative has grown to include 16 youth-run summer programs across the country, including Minneapolis, Detroit, Cleveland and Iowa City. Not only are youth implementing clean energy solutions on the ground, they are also building new partnerships with local businesses, schools, community members, and local policy makers, and creating the green jobs vital to the transition to a clean energy economy. This focus on ‘sustainable cities’ parallels a growing focus area for Midwest environmental non-profits and foundations and lends itself to exciting cross-generational collaboration. The Will Steger Foundation is proud to play a role in fostering these connections through our Emerging Leaders Program.

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Summer of Solutions Twin Cities youth flex their muscle at the Peace Haven community garden

The Ohio Student Environmental Coalition (OSEC) is another hot spot on the youth climate map. Currently funded through the Energy Action Coalition and fiscally sponsored by Global Exchange, OSEC has grown in leaps and bounds over the past year. Funding for a full-time Coordinator position has made a huge difference, and enable to statewide network to expand include more schools and a wider range of projects. Perhaps most exciting is the OSEC Don’t Frack with Ohio campaign. Student organizers are working closely with community groups and non-profit partners to host strategic meetings across the state. The meetings have had strong turn out and drawn interest from local/state policy makers. The Coalition is also running several other campaigns including the Lake Erie Off-Shore Wind Project, Ohio Beyond Coal, and Smart Transportation for a Smart Generation. OSEC is currently one of the largest and most effective statewide youth network in the country, and is a valuable example of what a well-structured and effective youth network can look like. Janina Klimas, OSEC Coordinator, is also taking the lead in planning Midwest Power Shift, to be held Oct. 7-9 at Cleveland State University.

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Summer of Solutions Iowa City youth at ZJ Farm, run in the model of community-sponsored-agriculture

While these two programs are making an impact on the wider youth movement, youth orgs and programs across the Midwest are hard at work this summer, sweating it out on a variety of issues. WISPIRG is holding Wisconsin Gov. Walker’s feet to fire drawing attention to his spending on new roads vs. investment in existing infrastructure and clean transportation options, along with a new community weatherization program. MPIRG is working actively at the municipal level on solid waste legislation as part of their Greener Minneapolis program. National Wildlife Federation, based in Michigan, is continuing it’s outreach to community colleges on green jobs training through their Greenforce Initiative. The Sierra Student Coalition welcomed a new Director this spring and just wrapped up their annual Midwest youth training (SPROG) in Indiana this July.

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