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Youth Environmental Artivist Summit


Youth Environmental Artivist Summit


Photo above: Marisol Juarez paints the Salmon Life Cycle Mural

By April Moran Reza, Bilingual Outreach Coordinator, Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods

And there we were… perched upon a picnic table along Pomo Trail, overlooking a shimmering river snaking its way through coastal prairies and into the Pacific. Together, we sat, allowing the prodigious view to sink in. Collectively, we rested and tuned in as volunteer Debra Lopez, an Elder of the local Pomo Dry Creek Tribe, began a session of impromptu traditional. Having community leaders like Debra bring their narrative to the forefront at the 1st Annual Youth Environmental Artivist Summit carried invaluable impact. When students were asked if their perception about their role in the community had changed, one responded, “I know that any and everyone has a role in their community; a role that was brought up to my attention was having a voice and using it.”

Moments like these are what made Y.E.A.S. so distinct. Fourteen students and over thirty-five helpers, presenters, volunteers, community leaders and coordinators came together to participate and contribute to the creation of Y.E.A.S.

I would like to recognize our partner, Raizes Collective, a local non-profit dedicated to creating community by investing energy and resources in creating spaces where voices can be heard, stories can be shared, and artful expression is valued and fomented. For this reason, Raizes and Stewards joined forces with the intention of empowering our Sonoma County youth to become the next generation of environmental leaders to catalyze creative change in our community. During this four day – three night camping summit, our goal was to provide workshops focused on education, exposure and empowerment. Our hope – to proactively create a culture of stewardship that will lead to innovative change.

There were a total of 12 workshops provided, not including impromptu teaching moments along the way. Workshops ranged in theme from watershed ecology to yoga, from civic engagement to outdoor ethics, from a salmon life cycle mural painting, to self-made camp packet meals, from kayaking to an overview of the California State Park system delivered by Sonoma Coast State Park’s very own Ranger Ben

Many students were first time campers who gained new skills and valuable knowledge. “I learned how to build a tipi, and put a tent, and work as a group to make a fire. I learned that I can make a difference and how to respect nature while we are in it... I also learned our taxes fund these parks.”

There is a special kind of magic that fills the atmosphere when a high school sophomore makes her very first s’more, or when a young man is overtaken by concentration as he proudly tends a group campfire for the first time. Although, the beauty of Y.E.A.S. is not due solely to the experience alone, but in how these students are looking to share this experience with others. “I gained more knowledge about the places we can go to with our families.” Another added, “I can put to use the knowledge I gained at Y.E.A.S. starting in my very own household and perhaps expanding to suggest new ways to save water in the homes of my relatives.”

Mitakuye Oyasin. Asi seaAs a non-profit working in partnership with State Parks, I understand that it is our responsibility to engage our public with their lands, while simultaneously planting the seed of stewardship as a core value. Stewardship can be applied in the way we tend our lands, and even in the way we tend to our homes, our communities, and our economy. To hold stewardship as a value is to acknowledge the interweaving of our existence, in relation to all our surroundings at this time.

In the age of high speed technology and immediate gratification, there is an ever increasing need to invest time in our youth; to consistently nurture values of self-expression, civic engagement, and stewardship. We recognize that change goes hand in hand with utilizing individual and collective power. Whether taking action means making informed decisions, writing a letter to their local supervisor about the conditions of Willow Creek Road, participating in a mural, following the Coastal Commission decision on coastal fees, writing poetry, or sparking a shift in the culture of complacency (that has led to the kind of presidential election we are faced with in 2016) through civic engagement, these youth learned that they hold the power to do so. “The organization that stood out to me the most was the eco over ego as well as civic engagement for social justice. I think what they spoke about will resonate in me long after

I’ve left.” Thanks to organizations like North Bay Organizing Project and Movement Generation, these future voters learned that their power is in essence, their ability to act.

Students choose how they express that power. Our duty as a community is to empower them to do so. At Y.E.A.S., we encouraged students to dig within the landscape of their “inner wilderness”, as Naturalist Sequoia Etcheverry put it, and explore the treasures they already carry. By providing platforms for role models, such as Karym Sanchez, to share a narrative that is both highly valuable and relative, students were able connect. “…It was a powerful workshop. Everyone was gathered by the fire, we all had something to say, many people shared their personal stories, and everyone was listening.

It was a safe place to be…” Then the quiet thoughtful student who will speak up and say, “I would say Karym Sanchez stood out the most because we were both born in different countries…” followed by, “I believe Y.E.A.S. has changed my perception of who I am because I feel more empowered in creating change.” 

As much as we need people like Karym to continue assuring our youth that they too can “be the heroes and sheroes of their own story”, we also need the continued support of organizations like the California State Parks Foundation and the Dean Whitter Foundation, who made it possible for all fourteen students to attend free of charge. Collective change is beautiful, and as the saying goes, “it takes a village to raise a child.” I would like to encourage anyone reading, to plant seeds of stewardship wherever you go.

If you are interested in joining efforts to continue Y.E.A.S. or would like to learn more, please contact Isabel Lopez at or April Reza at