Project Main Details
Leading a grassroots movement called the Green Ambassadors, the youth-led program helps local schools and the broader surrounding community plant and grow urban and community forests as answers to some of the issues they see in their neighborhoods every day.
Issues such as access to fresh, healthy foods, the heat island effect and flooding that are so prominent in Houston, environmental justice and food sovereignty.
The Green Ambassadors have planted hundreds of fruit trees and more than 200 vegetable garden beds in the community. They raised approximately 3,000 pounds of collard greens, sweet potatoes and other vegetables that have been donated to area food banks. Participating in this community service convinced some of the students to become green ambassadors.
These youth are preparing themselves to serve in leadership roles and careers in natural resource professions. There are members of the group dedicated to permaculture, pollinators, health and physical fitness, wildlife, urban planning and development and environmental justice.
The youth are embracing prevalent research that connects human health benefits with trees and nature and putting that connection into action.
The Green Ambassadors are themselves at-risk high school and college students who are gaining leadership skills and confidence through their roles as teachers and mentors to younger students. They go out to elementary and middle schools, local neighborhoods and parks to share information on how to take care of the environment with conservation and environmental awareness messages.
The students are also preparing for the university experience. Several will be the first of their families to enter college.
Unlike many established, youth ambassador programs that were developed top-down by agencies or other entities, the Green Ambassadors have themselves created a movement by building upon the energy of the youth and from partners such as the Latino Legacy program of the Friends of National Forests and Grasslands in Texas, the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation and the Arbor Day Foundation’s “Nature Explore” program.
They are absorbing and combining conservation education curricula from many forestry and natural resource organizations like the American Forest Foundation’s Project Learning Tree, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, Texas A&M Forest Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Texas A&M College of Architecture — among others.
he Green Ambassador program models “youth-leading-youth” with students teaching each other how to learn, and how to think.
They’re doing it by incorporating bilingual education, using mentors to connect diverse audiences to nature, and facilitating after-school programing in schools and community centers.
A big part of the success of the program comes from their dedicated leaders, educators and champions.
David Salazar and Juan Antonio Elizondo are Career and Technical Education agriculture teachers at Furr High School – known as The Green Institute – within the Houston Independent School District.
David and Juan are former high school classmates from the East End who returned to their community to teach.
David, Juan and the other program leaders were inspired by their own high school experiences, their engaging teachers, and by students interacting with state, federal and non-governmental agencies. They grew up knowing that the mission of a natural resource agency is ultimately to help the people.
The program has been recognized nationally and has garnered the attention of officials in forestry and natural resource organizations. We want to know why this highly organic movement has found such success, and to be able to use it as a model for other communities across the nation.
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