I was a high school junior when I first heard about the Sierra Student Coalition’s grassroots organizing training program, called Sprog (short for Summer Program). I’d just returned from studying environmental science intensively at a semester boarding school program in Wisconsin, and I was looking for ways to turn my new understanding of environmental issues into action. Sprog looked like a perfect kickstarter for my career in environmental organizing.
My Sprog experience turned out to be everything I’d hoped it would be. The weeklong program, held in Detroit, brought together young organizers from across the Midwest. I was one of 15 trainees (affectionately known as “Sproggers”), led by nine enthusiastic trainers who were all young people with organizing experience. The trainings covered all kinds of grassroots organizing topics, from anti-oppression to campaign messaging. We also visited a local community garden, heard from a panel of speakers on environmental justice, practiced our campaign planning skills in a simulated campaign, and held lots of thoughtful discussions. I left Sprog with the confidence to start organizing in my community. More importantly, I also had a network of organizer friends from across the Midwest.
A few months after my first Sprog, I decided to apply to be a trainer at the 2013 Midwest Sprog. The skills and connections I’d gained at Sprog had been a huge help for me as I’d taken on every organizing opportunity I could find. During my senior year I’d become co-chair of the YEA! MN steering committee, served on my city’s human rights commission, and joined the campaign for Minnesota marriage equality. Being a trainer would let me give others the Sprog experience that I’d benefitted so much from.
As a member of the Midwest Sprog 2013 training team, I got a glimpse into how much hard work and thought goes into organizing a Sprog. For months leading up to Sprog, the trainings team held weekly conference calls so that we could get to know each other, figure out Sprog logistics, and delegate tasks. Our biggest jobs were recruiting and keeping in touch with sproggers and prepare the training sessions we would deliver. In May, the trainings team met up in Minneapolis for the weekend-long Training for Trainers program, where we learned how to deliver trainings effectively and make Sprog a safe space for all our participants.
After months of working on Sprog preparation, I was just starting to get tired of conference calls when Sprog week arrived and proved that all our work was worthwhile. We gathered in Bradford Woods, Indiana on July 14 and met an amazing group of sixteen Sproggers who came from all across the Midwest. There was a huge range in age–from high school senior to college grad– as well as organizing experience.
One of the most rewarding parts of the week for me was getting to know the sproggers and hearing stories from their campaigns. Several participants shared stories of seeing the destructive impacts of strip mining firsthand, and many sproggers had experience organizing or participating in huge protests.
As a trainer, my week at Sprog also let me explore my interest in education and mentorship. Because our group of sproggers was mostly very experienced with campaigns, we adapted our trainings to be heavily discussion-based and acted more as facilitators than trainers. College-age sproggers gave me a lot of advice on college organizing as well as picking classes. I also got to step into the shoes of the trainers I’d looked up to at my first Sprog, and was happy to encourage and share my experiences with younger sproggers.
By the end of the week, we’d built a strong community among sproggers and trainers. I was sad to see everyone part ways—but I can’t wait to hear about the amazing work sproggers and trainers will do with the skills, confidence and connections gained from 2013 Midwest Sprog.