Transforming the Future: Midwest Youth Orgs Receive Funding for Visionary Climate Solutions

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Participants in the Green Economy Leadership Training with Highland Park neighborhood kids – Detroit, Summer 2009

Let me tell you a story. It’s a classic tale of the ‘Hero’s Journey’: persevering against the odds, navigating obstacles that lie in the path, gathering allies, and being transformed through the experience of the journey. These heroes are not brandishing swords, light sabers, or magic wands. They are the young people in our midst using their creative genius, their collaborative spirit, and their technical know-how to shape new perspectives on how we live on this planet and challenge the energy structures we take for granted.

In October 2010, RE-AMP, a Midwest network of environmental non-profits and foundations, issued a request for proposals to critical allies, specifically youth and faith constituencies, related to transportation, energy efficiency, and a cap on carbon, for a total of $350,000. Applicants were also encouraged to coordinate their proposals with the coordinated policy focus coming out of each RE-AMP state, including ND, SD, MN, IA, WI, IL, MI, and OH.

Ten of the leading youth organizations, either run exclusively by youth, or directly supporting youth-run programs, submitted proposals. These same ten organization, working closely together over the past 2-3 years, have build a strong regional youth climate coalition, holding monthly youth calls to share resources, training opportunities, and policy updates, and to prepare for in-person meetings and large regional gatherings.

After a large round of funding in 2008 to three national youth organizations active in the Midwest, RE-AMP stepped up it’s investment in youth climate leadership by hiring a RE-AMP Youth Climate Coordinator to act as a liaison. That’s where I come in! Still based at the Will Steger Foundation, my role has been a fantastic opportunity to bridge the generational spectrum to find opportunities for collaboration, and increase transparency – a compliment to our Emerging Leaders program.

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IEN engages tribal youth at Bioneers Conference

This most recent round of funding for youth constituencies put significant funds into seven out of ten Midwest youth organizations. The Midwest youth coalition, was intentional in submitting proposals that were coordinated vs. competitive, and as a result the entire coalition stands to benefit from the financial gain of the seven who received funding. Furthermore, the RE-AMP Steering Committee selected not the proposals that provided more foot soldiers for the long standing environmental non-profit community, but those that represented truly visionary, intelligent and creative ideas. The proposals that were selected represent projects and campaigns that could not be replicated by other organizations. They highlight youth strengths and the unique voice and capacity that youth bring to the climate movement.

Grant recipients and projects include :

  • Global Exchange: Michigan Youth for a Clean Energy Economy
    Global Exchange will educate, engage, and empower MI youth to be active agents of change in building the necessary clean energy green economy future, at the local to the federal level, through the Green Economy Leadership Training (GELT) summer program in partnership with diverse local partners, housed in the Highland Park neighborhood of Detroit.
  • MI Student Sustainability Coalition and OH Student Environmental Coalition: Michigan/Ohio Power Shift youth summit
    These two state-wide student coalition will combine efforts to host a joint Power Shift youth climate summit focused on the shared themes of reindustrialization and the green economy, providing work force training, organizing skills, and capacity building for MI and OH youth.
  • Grand Aspirations: Our Power Campaign
    The Our Power campaign seeks to bring the South Minneapolis community together through student leadership and community partnership to empower residents and business owners to work together for efficient, clean, and affordable energy. The campaign will: (1) Engage youth and community partners to define vision for area’s energy future and mobilize community around the Our Power campaign; and (2) Deepen community engagement through scaled adoption of energy efficiency while generating interest in demand management and distributed technologies.
  • Energy Action Coalition: Tribal Youth and Tar Sands Action
    Energy Action Coalition will engage tribal youth on tar sands and clean energy through the Indigenous Environmental Network in Minnesota and the Dakotas, including a Tribal Youth Summit/Tar Sands Action Camp to be held in the fall of 2010.
  • Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group: High Speed Rail Now
    WISPIRG’s rail campaign is aimed at convincing WI Governor-elect Walker to allow construction of high speed rail, through a re-framed debate: partisan gridlock vs. an economically savvy vision. Student organizing efforts will include (1) elevating the youth voice in the HRS debate and (2) garnering and highlighting support of small local business owners.
  • Illinois Student Environmental Coalition: Retire Existing Coal Plants
    ISEC will organize students on college campuses across the state around retiring existing coal plants, in partnership with the Chicago Clean Power Coalition. This includes a campaign to pass local policy at the city level to reduce pollution from Fisk and Crawford coal plants
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Summer of Solutions participants at a national gathering, 2009

While a total of $145,000 split between seven recipients may not seem like very much, for many of these youth organizations it the seed money they need to take their program to the next level. Out of the grant funding youth are hiring young staff, providing stipends for student organizers, providing travel stipends to bring students together across the state and region, securing housing for inner-city residential summer programs and launching campaigns that directly support concrete and tangible solutions to the climate crisis.

It is extremely heartening in this time of increased financial insecurity and climate denial to witness, not only the growth of these inspiring and substantive youth climate initiatives, but also the investment and faith on the part of RE-AMP. It is this collaboration, across the generational spectrum, and between diverse communities, that is critical in the short time we have, to impact the climate crisis in real and tangible ways. These youth organizers are not only creating new pathways to a more sustainable way of life, they are in the process, transforming themselves and our vision for what the future can hold.

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