Zoom screen from youth council meeting

Sustainable Orillia’s Youth Council Leads the Way

When looking for inspiration in the fight against climate change – Orillians needn’t look any further than to local high schools, universities and colleges to find motivated young people joining forces to take on this challenge. Not only do our youth increasingly understand the science and the consequences of climate change, more than any other group in the community, they have taken it on as ‘THE’ challenge of their lifetime. And they are on it!

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

Despite the interruptions and work-arounds over the past school year, the Sustainable Orillia Youth Council (SOYC) has continued to build momentum and membership, while delivering some effective programs. The SOYC launched during the spring of 2019, 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 that are bringing more and more young people into the sustainable movement; while providing tools and incentives to change behaviors on behalf of the environment.

From this standing start, the Youth Council has created the 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, Youth Council members developed a forty-minute webinar called “Sustainable Leaders of the Future”, specifically designed for elementary school children.

Youth Council webinar screen shots
Here are some shots from the webinar … featuring Adam Storey discussing pollinators and Amelia Sharron showing youngsters how to craft bird feeders from used toilet paper rolls.

This initiative was produced entirely by members of the SO Youth Council. It included on-site videos of Youth Council members discussing sustainability, nature, tree identification tips, pollinators, plus a fun segment on sustainable crafts. The webinar made it enjoyable for their young viewers, while providing 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, as the SOYC currently has two sizeable programs in their pipeline. The first project focuses once again on informing and motivating younger people on 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. These kits will contain an assortment of sustainable tips and tools – ranging from plant seeds, craft booklets, sustainable recipes, miniature solar cells and more. Once assembled, the kits will be delivered to local elementary schools for distribution.

The SOYC is also in the early stages of planning a very ambitious event: an environmental conference that will bring together eco-conscious groups and individuals from all over Simcoe County to explore initiatives supporting environmentalism and sustainability. Planning is well underway for a day-long conference in the spring of 2022 that will offer multiple workshops and professional speakers. Their over-arching objective is to share information and to inspire groups and individuals in our region to continue making positive, sustainable change in their respective areas, while coming 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 individuals and groups to form connections and relationships that will serve them well in the future. The working title is “Sustainable Simcoe Youth Conference”. The event is targeted for May 2022 and tentatively set to be held at Orillia’s Lakehead University campus. Once again, this is an excellent sponsorship opportunity for a local business or association to consider.

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