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Starting a Youth Environmental Group

Youth Environmental Network
Jason Kun, Atlantic Canada Coordinator
February 2005

t the core of every social movement is a surge of youth activism. If the last decade saw the establishment of general and special interest Environmental Organizations, then this decade marks the perennial rise of the Youth Environmental Non-Profit Organization (YENGO).  If you are interested in a specific environmental campaign, feel passionate about a cause, want to learn more about the issues and don't mind building your skills and meeting great people, you may want to join a YENGO or even start your own!

Getting organized as a group is the most effective and fun way of bringing about positive change. We will take a look at some of the angles of joining and/or starting a YENGO.

The Youth Environmental Network website has a great collection of materials that I have referred to in this article. Go check it out for yourself! www.yen-rej.org  - go to 'resources'.

Look within before you begin

Joining an existing group or starting one can seem a daunting task at first. For the best results, it's important to ask yourself and your group a few simple questions before you get going:

  • Is there another cool group already addressing these issues?
  • If so, how can you join them?
  • How much time and energy can you commit?
  • What are some skills that you could offer your group?
  • Who will your members be?
  • Are you going to need space and/or funds?
  • How can your group continue its efforts in the future?

You may want to find out about a few different campaigns and issues before you commit yourself. There are many environmental organizations across Atlantic Canada with offices ready to offer you information about youth groups doing great things in your area!


Member momentum

Enthusiastic membership and solid structure are important for efficiency and effective achievement of your group's goals.

To start out, you can get a few people together and decide on a first meeting or campaign action. Advertise the meeting or event by postering, emailing, pamphleting, a notice in your local university/community paper, word of mouth or whatever it takes to get some people interested. Recruiting people to an event is an effective way to gain membership as events are usually fun and allow people to interact and get to know each other.

You can always fuse a meeting into a fun event. Try a planning meeting & picnic! And of course a good way to recruit and keep members is to have members bring yummy organic food to meetings. Respect the time of members by starting and finishing meetings roughly on time. New members may feel intimidated if involved, complicated projects are all that you have to offer. Always have different tasks to offer to volunteers - some things small, some things big- and emphasize that all things are important.

SYC pic

A YENGO by any other name…

Every group needs a name and a mission statement. The name will be most distinct if it is short and sweet or forms an appealing acronym. Your mission statement should include a description of your group and its goals and should implicitly state your group's uniqueness from other groups. You should also be able to use your mission statement to focus the direction of the group.

Structure

How your group is structured and who does what is up to you and group. Some groups have positions like president, secretary, treasurer, etc. Many environmental organizations use a non-hierarchal approach so that all members have equal status. Include as many members as possible in anything that your group does - more involvement makes people feel important and motivates them to stay in involved with your group.

You can also find some really extensive information and resources at The NGO Café.


Meetings

Keep your meeting location and time consistent so that you can easily advertise, recruit new members and so existing members make the meeting a part of their routine. How about a Thursday lunchtime meeting? Don't be disappointed if someone can't come. It's important to choose an inspiring spot, with room for creativity. A good meeting place will help your group get efficient, positive work accomplished. Is there a room in your student union building or an empty classroom? Maybe your local community centre or environmental organization has some free space.

Make sure everyone in the group has a chance to express their point of view. Sometimes people really need to be asked and know that they are being listened to. You can even ask them for their thoughts if they don't volunteer. Be conscious of possibly creating a division between leaders and workers in your group. Elitism can often lead to a group's demise. If you feel that one of your members doesn't understand an acronym or concept, take the time to explain or you can ask the group to explain the new word or concept. This process is also good for explaining the meaning of ideas and concepts to the group, so that everyone is on the same page! Productive meetings are the staple of a productive YENGO.

Check out the PEI Literacy page for a nice, simple guide on successful meetings.

Action Planning

All right, you have members, a meeting time and location, now you're set up to plan a campaign, event or workshop. When everyone in the group contributes to the effort, your project will benefit from all the diverse ideas and energy of your members.
 I searched far and wide for a good resource on this topic and I'll give a big shout out to the Sierra Youth Coalition (SYC) for their work on creating the Action Planning Kit.

See: Get In On The Action!

This article is just the tip of the (quickly melting) iceberg so dive a little deeper and see what you find.