Hope for Tomorrow: Disney’s Youth Conservation Summit

In a presidential election year with vitriolic politics at its best in decades, it is difficult to fathom the path to a more sustainable future. For me, this is particularly true living in the DC area and working for an advocacy organization fighting for legislation and policy to preserve the environment while watching the game clock expire. Even as this work seems almost insurmountable, I am reenergized, recharged and enthusiastic about the work ahead after attending Disney’s Youth Conservation Summit.

NWF was one of four non-profits honored for our work in connecting kids to nature, receiving a corporate sponsorship gift and providing an opportunity for us to send four youth representatives to the awards ceremony and event. That was just the catalyst to reinvigorating this work.

Our four youth represented two geographic areas, and delivered diversity of thought, background, projects and ages. Malcolm and Brandon are from the Atlanta area, working on community wildlife habitat and school-based initiatives. Daveishena and Renee joined us from the Navajo Nation reservation in New Mexico, working on community gardening and recycling efforts.


For our kids, the opportunity to travel from home, visit Disney and participate in the youth summit was a unique opportunity. Sprinkle in some true Disney magic, talent, photos with Jane Goodall and a screening of Chimpanzee, thought leadership from Disney executives, and it could be a pivotal moment in the lives of all these children (and adults). Woven in the long stretches of applause, motivational speakers and teary eyes, similar, yet powerful messages emerged:

  • Youth not only can make a difference in the future, they do this every day
  • Vision, innovation and dogged diligence are gifts; the trick is to capitalize on the uniqueness of youth and create a foundation and pathway for the future
  • Children inspired by nature and the outdoors may be different from their classmates, but they are not alone (100 strong at the conference alone)
  • Mentors are critical, but not easy to find
  • Idealism is powerful, don’t be ashamed
  • Never take no for an answer; just revise the question

In the end, I am not sure who was more inspired by the conference, Malcolm, Brandon, Daveishena, Renee, the chaperones, Disney’s leadership…or me.

As NWF embarks on a big, hairy and audacious goal to connect 10 million new kids to nature, we recognize we need more than magic to change the nature of childhood. However, we are anchored, inspired and confident the mix of America’s youth, strong parent/teacher support and corporate commitment and engagement by Disney and others will be only the beginning of returning nature to our children. As Walt Disney once said, this whole thing started with just a mouse…