Community Change Projects
Idea Leader: Avree Fe Koffman
Location: Santa Fe, NM
Partner Organization: Earth Care
Project Summary: Avree Fe Koffman, 18, and her peers had a theory that if students cared about the things they were learning and saw the connection to the world and their role in it, education would come alive and motive students. Working with local organization, Earth Care, the team developed peer education and service learning components and shared them in workshops with 1,732 students.
Education Is Like Food; If It Nourishes and Feeds Your Soul, You Need a Good Helping Everyday
“Young people drop out of school because they don’t value it enough relative to the other things they want to do and the other pressures in their lives. They drop out not because they are stupid, lazy, or lacking but because school is not offering them what they need and want for themselves.”
Those are the words of Gabe Rima, a senior at Monte Del Sol high school in Santa Fe, New Mexico where less than half of high school-age youth in the community graduate with a high school diploma. Gabe and eight of his peers decided that the dropout crisis was something worth addressing and they wanted to try to do something to support their fellow youth instead of having the solutions always come from adults.
With a My Ideas grant award from America’s Promise and AT&T and training and mentorship from Earth Care’s Youth Allies Director, Gabe and eight other youth leaders in Earth Care’s Youth Allies Organizing Program set-out on a mission to show their peers what the potential of education can be if only young people are empowered and equipped to use their education to make a difference. Their goal was to transform the experience of education for students in Santa Fe so that it became something that young people couldn’t get enough of.
“Our theory was that if people cared about the things they were learning and saw learning’s connection not only to the world but to helping themselves and the world – all of a sudden education would come alive and students would have motivation to finish high school and go on to college,” says Idea Leader Avree Koffman.
Through their experience in Youth Allies Program, the young leaders had already experienced for themselves how meaningful education can build a student’s confidence, make her/him feel valued, significant, give her/him opportunities to apply their learning to address real world problems, and make a difference in the community. Their task was to figure out a way to take that experience into the schools to inspire and engage their peers.
They did that by designing community-change projects that included peer education components as well as service-learning activities. Before starting off on their projects, they offered trainings to the 26 participants in Youth Allies afterschool Leadership Institute so they would have additional youth to help lead the projects. Once they had their teams they began implementing their projects.
Their projects invited young people to learn about important issues in the community such as hunger, climate change, waste, civic engagement, and youth disconnection. The projects they designed this year included:
- Food Not Bombs
- Seam Rippers: Waste Reduction through Repurposing
- Art and Social Change
- Youth Advisory Board to Sustainability Commission, iMatter March
- Eco Schools Student Coalition
- Youth Voices for Community Change Radio Project
- Community Gardening
- Middle School Education with Citizen Schools
They did education presentations/workshops for 1,732 students. In addition to peer education, the youth engaged their fellow students in applied learning through service-learning projects. The projects they conducted with their peers demonstrated just how powerful education can be when it provides young people with the opportunity to give back to their community and make a difference.
Food Not Bombs diverted more than 10,000 lbs of food from the waste stream and fed over 700 people. Seam Rippers made scarves and reusable grocery bags for low-income people, the food and clothes drive generated 100s of lbs of donations, Youth Voices for Change Radio produced five radio shows and four radio segments where youth were able to discuss issues that are important to them, the Eco-Schools Student Coalition was able to eliminate the use of Styrofoam at three schools next year, the iMatter March engaged 137 people who came out on a Sunday to express their support for youth and their futures, and the Community Gardening Project held over a dozen workshops at youth-led garden plots and garden installations at low-income homes.
Earth Care educates and empowers youth to create healthy, just and sustainable communities. Earth Care’s flagship program, Youth Allies for Sustainability, trains young people from diverse backgrounds in cross-cultural leadership, sustainable living practices, and social change. Once trained, youth leaders develop their own community-change projects to make a difference and address unmet community needs. For more information on Earth Care, visit www.earthcare.org or www.youthalliesnetwork.org.