NWF’s Na’Taki Osborne Jelks Honored with White House Champions of Change Award

The Obama Administration selected Na’Taki Osborne Jelks, manager of Education and Advocacy Programs in National Wildlife Federation’s Atlanta office, as one of 14 White House Champions of Change for her outstanding work in engaging the next generation of conservation leaders.  

Na'Taki conducting stream monitoring with Earth Tomorrow students.
Na’Taki conducting stream monitoring with Earth Tomorrow students. Photo by Bryan Meltz
Na’Taki’s recognition comes from her initiative to lead NWF’s Atlanta Earth Tomorrow® Program, a multi-cultural, environmental education and leadership program to develop youth environmental literacy and life skills that help them contribute to the ecological health of their communities.

“Through the Earth Tomorrow Program, I have been fortunate to work with a number of talented youth leaders who care about the future of our planet and who take action to protect and restore it for current and future generations,” said Na’Taki. “I am awed by their passion and creativity and inspired by the transformations that I have witnessed in participants that propel them from the realization that there are pressing conservation challenges in their communities to engaging their peers, parents, and decision-makers in taking action for change.”

“The Earth Tomorrow work is very personal for NaTaki,” said Susan Kaderka, regional executive director of NWF’s South Central Regional Center. “She is committed to engaging young people in the environmental health and sustainability of their own communities. For thousands of students she has opened up the possibility that that they can be leaders, that they can make a difference where it matters most.”

Since 2001, Na’Taki has tirelessly worked with more than 2,500 students from across the Atlanta school system in this robust year-long program. Owing largely to Na’Taki’s inspiring leadership and caring guidance, many of these students have gone on to pursue careers in conservation and other public service work.

Finding Future Leaders

Tamara Johnson, who is a former Earth Tomorrow student and now, wildlife biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Georgia, commented on the tremendous impact Na’Taki’s guidance and support had on her life.

“I was always impressed by how much Na’Taki cared about fostering environmental stewardship in me and my fellow Earth Tomorrow students, and how she empowered us to foster it in our community,” said Johnson. “Because of my exposure in Earth Tomorrow, I found a career in conservation biology, a field that I love more and more every day. Because of her own passion and her dedication, I credit Na’taki with helping me find my path. I hope that one day I can leave a lasting legacy in someone’s life in a similar way that Na’taki has blessed mine.”

Na'Taki with Earth Tomorrow students at Arabia Mountain in Georgia.
Earth Tomorrow students at Arabia Mountain in Georgia. Photo by Juanita Smith
In 2013, Earth Tomorrow was selected to join the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC), a national effort to provide service, training, education and employment opportunities for young Americans, including low income and disadvantaged youth, to protect, restore, and enhance America’s natural and cultural resources. Designation as a 21CSC member will increase NWF’s capacity to prepare youth from underserved communities for careers in conservation.

In addition to Earth Tomorrow, Na’Taki leads NWF’s Hike & Seek and Great American Backyard Campout events in the Atlanta area, and over the past year has been paving the way for NWF to introduce Eco-Schools in the Atlanta Public School system. Her other work includes leading efforts to get kids connected to nature, and engaging underrepresented communities in conservation efforts to combat global warming, restore habitat in Atlanta’s diminishing urban forest, create green jobs, and train the next generation of environmental leaders.

The prestigious Champions of Change event honors people and organizations from across the country who are working to get young people to play, learn, serve and work outdoors. Na’Taki will be honored at a ceremony at the White House on Tuesday March 18, 2014 at 9 a.m. The event will be streamed live at www.whitehouse.gov/live.

UPDATE: You can see a replay of the event below.