If you’re starting from scratch, use these steps as a guide to create an environmental group in your school or community. If you’re already part of a high school class or club that addresses environmental issues, consider joining National Wildlife Federation’s Earth Tomorrow network to share ideas and successes with groups nationwide.
Step 1: Do your homework
There are a few questions to answer before you get started:
Is there a base of 5-6 interested teens/high school students who want to start an environmental group?
Is there at least one adult volunteer (teacher, community leader, etc.) willing to support your efforts?
Are there other organizations/entities/individuals present in the community that might be willing to help with your groupís activities? (technical assistance, transportation assistance, mentoring)
Are there any existing youth environmental groups that you could join forces with? Linking with an existing group could strengthen your efforts and prevent you from “reinventing the wheel.”
Step 2: Confirm your Adult Sponsorship.
Most groups are student-led and student-driven, but require adult sponsorship, as well. Sponsors ensure your groupís sustainability ñ students graduate or move, but dedicated sponsors are always available to keep the group running. Your adult sponsor(s) can also provide advice on administration and community relations. For school-based groups, the sponsor or advisor is usually a teacher or someone else employed by the school. For community-based groups, you may consider an active adult volunteer.
Step 3: Hold an Interest Session.
Once you have a core group of interested students, an adult sponsor/advisor and some potential community support, hold an informal interest session to determine what role your group will play. The purpose of this session is to bring all interested people together to lay out the vision for your group, and brainstorm some possible activities/projects.
Start by asking two questions: 1.) Why are we here? 2.) What do we want to accomplish?
Setting specific goals is important for recruitment and fundraising purposes. If your goals are clear, then you will have an easier time convincing others to join you.
Briefly inventory your school or communityís most pressing environmental needs to figure out how to fulfill a need while creating a niche for your group. (Step 7 describes a more comprehensive community inventory.) In addition, ask individuals to write their personal environmental interests on a piece of paper. Bring this list to the next meeting, and spend some time brainstorming possible projects to address the topics people have listed.
Talk with other students about your ideas and goals. If you find support for the group, set up an official launch meeting.
Get excited and stay excited! Donít be discouraged if there are only a few members at the beginning. Remember that every organization starts small and builds, and even a few students and a sponsor can make a big difference.
Make note of everyone who shows interest. A quick follow up letter or e-mail will show them that you are committed.
Step 4: Hold Your First Meeting.
Advertise! To get as many people as possible to hear about your group, post flyers, use PA announcements, or submit blurbs to your school or community newspaper/letter or radio station. Word of mouth is, however, the most effective method of publicity, so talk it up! Make sure you list a contact for people to call/e-mail if they want more information.
At your opening meeting:
Introductions: Ask all members to introduce themselves. To encourage interaction, try a fun ice-breaker.
Snacks: Everyone loves food, and events with food are more likely to draw people. If you provide food, make sure you mention this on your flier.
Expectations: Let each person share why they are at this opening meeting. Individuals need to have a voice, and this first meeting is crucial to understanding what they want to get out of this experience. Some people will have no idea what they want yet, and are just curious. Thatís great!
By-Laws and Leadership: Set up by-laws to clarify the goals and the regulations of your group, and introduce possible leadership positions. Whatever positions you choose, make sure they are agreed upon by the group and that the roles and expectations are clear. (You may not determine this at the very first meetingóbut ideas should be raised and then a structure should be decided at the next meeting.) Plan to hold elections within the first month of school.
Future Meetings: Choose a consistent meeting date and time. Try to accommodate as many people as possible, but remember that no date and time will work for everyone.
Contacts: Develop a contact list. Everyone at the meeting should sign in with his or her name, grade/age, address, phone number, and e-mail address.
Action: Take action, even at the first meeting. For example, encourage every attendee to tell at least one potential member about the group.
Don’t forget to continue to advertise and recruit members.
Step 5: Join the Earth Tomorrow network.
National Wildlife Federation (NWF) offers great resources for both new and existing groups, including personal support from the nationís largest member-supported conservation education and advocacy group. Enroll in Earth Tomorrow, NWFís national network of high school clubs, classes and leaders to become part of a nationwide community of students and educators who are building their environmental literacy and taking positive community action. Visit http://www.nwf.org/earthtomorrow for more information.
Step 6: Identify Your Focus Project(s).
Based on your lists of community needs and member interests, brainstorm ideas for a yearlong community action project. The project should be group-oriented, have a measurable outcome, and address a topic that both benefits your school or community and interests group members. You will likely come up with many different project ideas. Realize that your group will not use all these ideas (yet) ñ thatís okay!
Step 7: Conduct a Community Inventory.
In order to choose a project and develop a project plan that best serves your school or community, inventory your surroundings. Which projects are most needed? Which ideas will have the greatest impact? What local organizations can provide resources and expertise in the various project areas? Include members, sponsors, parents, and school or community leaders in the inventory, and research all sides of the issues you identify as most pressing.
Also, learn from the successes and failures of other school and community groups. Find school or community organizations who share your mission, and start to develop partnerships. Pooling people and resources increases everyone’s productivity.
Finally, think of everyone as a potential resource. Check out local non-profit agencies, home and garden stores, the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Parks and Recreation, your regional chapter of the Environmental Protection Agency, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, 4-HÖin other words, try everyone!
Step 8: Develop an Action Project Plan.
After brainstorming action project ideas, focus on ONE topic/subject area for your initial effort. Two reminders: 1.) keep your project local, and 2.) get everyone involved. Following these two reminders will lead to action projects that empower your group members and really make a difference in your community. Develop a timeline that clearly lists goals, dates, and responsibilities.
Step 9: Diversify Your Activities.
Your community action project will be a yearlong endeavor, but why not plan special events for extra visibility? Get students outside for a clean-up or planting day, sponsor a field trip to a local wetland, zoo, or nature reserve, or hold an Environmental Awareness day at school. Brainstorm other creative ways to introduce your group to the school and community.
Step 10: Implement Your Plans!
Additional Tips and Tools:
When creating a school-based group, check with your school to make sure you know the procedure for setting up an after school club or group. There is usually some paperwork to fill out ahead of time in order to be approved.
Finding an Advisor: Look at the “Roles and Responsibilities” section when choosing an Advisor; make sure the person who works with you and other students has the same expectations as you and fellow students about his/her role in the group. If you are having trouble locating an Advisor, contact your local National Wildlife Federation educator for assistance.
Finding a meeting spot: For a community-based group, choose a meeting spot that most people can get to easily. (Choose a location where you wonít be charged to have meetings!)
The Power of One: Working on Your Own with Group Support
Perhaps you are the only high school student in your village or community. Maybe you are a home-schooled student and are working independently. Or maybe you just want to work on your own! Whatever the reason, National Wildlife Federation can help with project planning, skill building, and guidance. For more information, visit the Earth Tomorrow website at http://www.nwf.org/earthtomorrow.