By: NobleHour Special Contributor Latasha Doyle
June 5th is World Environment Day, and there is no shortage of environmental initiatives that have been made (and met) worldwide. One of the major challenges to environmental awareness is a generational gap; studies indicate that older demographics have much less interest in the environment and sciences that can reverse climate change, improve our energy sources, and so on. Generation Z, the youngest generation, are actually leading the charge in environmental progress. Research shows that Generation Z actually place themselves as part of a larger system. Rather than focusing on themselves as individuals, they want to work towards creating something that is mutually beneficial for all.
One organization, Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK), provides a number of programs targeted at preschool through 12th grade students (Generation Z), to help them understand the value of community outreach, and to get them interested in the nature and science departments. This Denver nonprofit is helping to foster an understanding and respect for the environment, and giving resources to children who can (and will) shape the future. Recently, ELK received a grant from NobleCause which will allow them to increase their reach, provide stronger support for those already in their program, and more.
How ELK is Making a Difference
According to Kristina Opre, Director of Corporate Relations, ELK offers four programs, including their School-Based and Community Programs which offer a wide selection of science and natural resources programs to community groups and public schools. They reach students in grades Pre-K through high school in 27 schools within six school districts, and their curriculum is correlated to Colorado State Academic Standards. ELK plans to serve 1,700 students through school-based instruction, as well as 8,500 youth, family, and community members through community engagement and outreach events in 2016.
Denver Youth Naturally (DYN), is a year-round, multi-year program that immerses youth in hands-on science and exploration of natural resources. With mentoring by science professionals, DYN youth find the support necessary to succeed in school and life. This program helps foster interest in fields that can make a huge difference in the global environmental arena, and can help more kids find futures in scientific careers. ELK plans to serve 160 new youth in 2016 with the aid of the NobleCause grant.
ELK’s third program, Youth in Natural Resources (YNR), offers college mentoring, career exploration, and work experience in the field of science and natural resources. This includes college campus visits, leadership development, one-to-one scholarship and college entrance application support, and summer employment. YNR gets youth into programs that can help hone their skills and passions, and hopefully make a positive impact on the environment as they gain the tools needed to make a difference. ELK plans to serve 75 new youth in 2016.
Their last program, Learning Environmental Activities for Families (LEAF), involves families of DYN and YNR youth in their children’s science learning, service projects, and outdoor experiences, encouraging quality family time side-by-side in nature. ELK plans to engage 350 ELK family members in 2016.
With each of these programs, ELK provides a supportive environment where exploration and leadership can be expressed. The youth who come through their programs will undoubtedly move on to great things, and with the help of the NobleCause grant, ELK hopes to reach even more kids and their families in the years to come.
What the NobleCause Grant Means for ELK
With the funding from NobleHour, Environmental Learning for Kids has been able to expand its capacity to serve more youth and provide these children (and their families) with meaningful opportunities to engage in service to their community. ELK youth are given the opportunity to participate in at least one service project per month. These opportunities include neighborhood beautification projects (trash removal, tree planting, mulching, painting, planting flower beds, etc.) and mentoring younger ELK participants.
“As an indirect result of our increased programming, this year several ELK students were able to engage in service learning experiences outside of Colorado,” says Opre. These trips included working in rural Appalachia, a foreign exchange program in China over spring break for one ELK youth, and traveling to East Africa to engage communities in entrepreneurial practices for another ELK youth. Clearly, this Denver-based program is creating a global difference in environmental education and awareness.
In addition to increased support for their current members, ELK has also experienced doubled attendance at Leadership Corps meetings, from an average of 15 students in the 2014-2015 school year to an average of 30 in the 2015-2016 school year. Doubling the average number of participants means twice as many students are receiving mentorship from ELK staff and are being exposed to more opportunities to serve their community and obtain post-secondary professional skills, such as resume writing and interviewing. ELK embodies the idea that children are our future, and they are going to great lengths to provide them support and resources that can help them become educated and well-rounded adults.
A Case Study: The Story of Juan
When youth join Environmental Learning for Kids, they don't just receive quality science and outdoor education; they are welcomed into the ELK family. While ELK has many tangible benefits, the hardest aspect to quantify is the lasting impact that students get from a nurturing, inclusive support system. Juan is just one example of a student who has truly been impacted by Environmental Learning for Kids. Juan joined ELK as he we was entering the 6th grade, over a year ago. With curiosity, he soaked up every bit of information he could about the outdoors, and began gaining confidence and leadership skills, even though he was a bit reserved and hesitant to let his voice be heard at first.
The summer of 2015 included several camping trips, and ELK staff were privileged to watch Juan become a more confident leader among his peers. August 2015 brought many changes for him and his family, as his mother and father were going through a heated divorce and a contentious custody battle over Juan and his brother. Like many young people suffering from traumas like family separation, Juan became increasingly removed others. In frequent conversations with his mother, ELK staff learned that events like fishing, hiking, and simply being around other ELKsters was one of her son's shining lights in this time of turbulence and transition. Through one-on-one mentoring with Juan, ELK staff got to truly know who he is, and who he can be.
By knowing Juan's interests and aspirations, ELK was able to facilitate a scholarship for him to attend their 2016 summer camp. This summer camp experience will not only be a transformational one for Juan, but it will also reinforce everything he has learned throughout his time with ELK. Environmental Learning for Kids is not meant to be an end-all stop for youth. Instead, Environmental Learning for Kids strives to educate youth in science and the outdoors, inspire them to hold high standards for themselves through community engagement and new outdoor experiences, and transform youth by providing them with the skills, tools, and confidence to take on whatever academic or personal challenge comes their way.
Since youth are encouraged to stay in the program indefinitely, they build long term relationships with ELK staff and youth participants. Because of the NobleCause grant, “we're able to say ‘Welcome to the ELK family’ to more kids, and hopefully provide the same support for them that kids like Juan receive from us every day,” says ELK staffer Justin Twist.
Environmental Learning for Kids is clearly making a difference, and is a worthy recipient of the NobleCause grant. For more information, or to donate to their program, please check out their website, www.elkkids.org.
Do you want to find meaningful service opportunities with organizations like ELK? We can help! Sign up for your free NobleHour account today.
The NobleCause grants, organized by NobleHour.com, were made possible by an anonymous donor within the GiveWell Community Foundation, which serves Polk County, Florida. Since 2007, NobleHour has proven to be the volunteer management solution for organizations across the nation. With its robust online platform, NobleHour enhances community engagement with a variety of innovative and transformative tools for finding, tracking, and measuring volunteer, service‐learning, and community service initiatives. With offices in Lakeland, FL, and Portland, OR, the NobleHour team is dedicated to empowering good in communities across the country.
Latasha Doyle is a writer and long term care volunteer living outside of Denver, Colorado. When she's not writing or volunteering, she enjoys crocheting, Netflix marathons, and planning her next trip.