Guest Post: Celebrating the 10th Annual Atlanta Earth Tomorrow Summer Institute

This is a guest post from Dejia Freeman, a graduate of the National Wildlife Federation’s Atlanta Earth Tomorrow Program and current program assistant for Earth Tomorrow.

The Southeast Regional Center of the National Wildlife Federation, community partners, graduates, and current participants of the Atlanta Earth Tomorrow® (ET) Program kicked off the countdown to the ten year anniversary of the program at its recent 10th Annual Earth Tomorrow® Summer Institute at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

(photo by Na'Taki Osborne Jelks)

As in past years, the Summer Institute was action-packed and included team building exercises; leadership training; interactions with dynamic community leaders rooted in the environmental justice movement at the local and national levels; environmental service learning projects; “pioneer” camping and other outdoor experiences like fishing and canoeing; an environmental college and career fair; and opportunities to make lifelong connections with current and emerging environmental leaders.

This year was extra special with the introduction of an entire day dedicated to local food security and sustainability—making the Institute a seven day, six night experience; a first for the program.

I left this year’s Summer Institute feeling rejuvenated and motivated to step up and do more to protect our environment. The Institute always gives me a boost because of all of the new things I learn, and because the enthusiasm of the student leaders is intoxicating! Each year that Atlanta teens come to the Institute, they leave as better leaders who more educated about their local ecosystem and excited to share their experience with others. Over the course of ten years, the Earth Tomorrow® Program has produced over 1,500 environmental leaders who have been directly impacted by the program.

(photo by Na'Taki Osborne Jelks)

As a graduate of the program, and now as the Earth Tomorrow® Program Assistant, ET has a special place in my heart.  I’ve have always had a unique and comfortable relationship with nature, but it wasn’t until I discovered the Earth Tomorrow® Club, at Pebblebrook High School in Mableton, Georgia, that I understood that I need to protect this beautiful, extraordinary earth that we have taken for granted. Being with people who had similar connections to the environment and a sponsor who was passionate about educating

a new crop of environmental leaders was awesome. I have never felt more “at home” or that I could accomplish so much than I have in the midst of my peers in Earth Tomorrow® meetings as a high school student, during the Earth Tomorrow® Summer Institute, and finally as a ET graduate who has been fortunate enough to give back to the program as both a volunteer and staff member.

Earth Tomorrow® has impacted me in so many ways that it would be impossible to describe it all in detail. I am more informed and more aware of the challenges that face our earth and our communities, and I feel armed with the skills and tools I need to help be a part of the solution.

Because of Earth Tomorrow® I don’t want my little brother, my children, or their children to live in a world where they can’t enjoy the outdoors. I’m concerned about them living in cities because of the negative impacts that pollution and climate change can bring to both wildlife and human communities. I don’t want them to not know what a polar bear is because they are all extinct.

(photo by Na'Taki Osborne Jelks)

I want my generation and all of those following mine to enjoy the enormous beauty and opportunities that the natural world has given to my mother’s, father’s, and grandmother’s generations. We deserve it, and the generation after us deserves it more because they are unknowingly being born into a world that has so many challenges.

Earth Tomorrow® provides an opportunity for youth to create and implement solutions to these and other issues in their communities. A group of students can impact their community, and once the neighboring communities start catching on, there is a domino effect that can captivate the state, the entire United States, and the even world.

But, it has to start somewhere. I am living proof that Earth Tomorrow® is that start for so many youth in the Atlanta area. From my own experience, I know that ET can create a new breed of powerful, informed conservation leaders who will indeed change and save the world! I’m honored to be one in the number.

Click here to see a video from Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasters about  the Atlanta Earth Tomorrow Program.