Saturday, September 29, 2018

Engaging the Next Generation


OK. I realize that my enthusiasm for sustainability sounds like the ramblings of Charlie Brown's teacher to my teenage son. (Perhaps a bit more strident...)

My boys squawk at the idea of carrying out the rinse water to irrigate our edible plants. In their defense, they weren't raised in a sustainable household. During my past marriage, we did some half-hearted recycling and that was as far as it went.

So how do you get apathetic teens interested in sustainable living? Looking back at my youth, I recall how I absolutely HATED picking green beans on my Nana's farm. But her legacy lovingly hangs over me as I tend my own little desert garden. So who knows? There may be hope for my boys.

A teachable moment presented itself when Dan and I had to go away for a long weekend. The boys generously agreed to water our yard and garden while we were away. I took the opportunity to not only give them directions, but to explain - in detail - why we do what we do. They seemed a little distracted at the time. Josh was texting his girlfriend... But we came home to thriving plants. (And a pile of dog shit, but that's another story.) I'm not sure this had much of an impact on their lives - yes, I'm still the one taking out the sink water - but hopefully it planted the seeds. Joshua admitted later that he had actually enjoyed being out in nature. Jeremy shared a story on how he saw a scruffy coyote staring hungrily at the squirrels on the other side of our garden fence. (Yes, those are the same squirrels that perch on the back wall ready to pounce on my beloved tomatoes the minute they turn red.) Of course, I'm glad the little critters are alright!

Recently, another opportunity to reach my youngest son presented itself. Since graduating high school, Jeremy has been doggedly pursuing his passion for stand-up comedy. He hits a different open mic every night. I found a way to use this interest to get him to research sustainable principles. I invited him to MC Sustainable Tucson's impromptu storytelling activity "Tales of the Future" at our tent at Discover Local Day. He has to come up with four sample stories on the theme of "Tucson's sustainable future." Sure, this is nepotism. But it's worth it. I am so proud of him for rising to the challenge. He may never become another Brad Lancaster, but he has already come up with some pretty funny shit.

Yes, sometimes it's discouraging that more teens aren't getting on board with fighting climate change (UA Students for Sustainability and Compost Cats are exceptions.) But this success with Jeremy inspired me to reach out to other teens by taking advantage of their personal interests.

The Sustainable Tucson organizing team needed to come up with some activities for our tent at Discover Local Day. After participating in Living Streets Alliance's community hearings on Complete Streets, I was inspired to do an activity on "Planning your Neighborhood." Instead of just taking a crack at it myself, I invited Changemaker High School art students to design and make it. Their principal was delighted that the students would learn about complete, walkable streets while honing their critical thinking skills. Last night at their open house, one of the students, Jasmine, excitedly showed off her work on the project. Gotta admit that made my day! 

So how did this little experiment in engaging our teens turn out?

I'm eternally grateful to Jasmine for planning the street map. (One less thing I had to do!) The students used the neighborhood around their school as inspiration. Four guys painted houses, businesses, streets and the Swan Wash on the tabletop. It turned out to be more difficult than first imagined. The paint wouldn't stick to the plastic coating.  But the students solved the problem by taking off the plastic coating.

There were also challenges with making the movable pieces. The class tried small wooden squares cut to scale with the street map. They were too tiny to paint on! They eventually used a set of children's building blocks (not painted to scale.) To be honest, not all of the Changemaker art students got into to the "Planning Your Neighborhood" project.  They had their own projects. But I'm proud of the ones who worked on it. It wasn't an easy task!

So how did my little act of nepotism work out? Immediately after being hired to MC our storytelling tent, Jeremy went off to his room to brainstorm ideas. He was inspired to write a couple of stories right away. He patiently listened as I shared sustainable principles.  He read my story prompts (as promised) and came up with more ideas. He was actually a delight to work with. He even brainstormed some ideas with me.  I gave him the idea to use the lion character he had developed for a speech and debate competition. He ran with it. He came up with a hilarious story about a mountain lion escaping from the Desert Museum when the power goes out.

I'm so glad I asked Jeremy to MC. I think it was good for our relationship! Jeremy had an excellent attitude. He even agreed to help out as needed.  On the morning of the event, a groggy Jeremy got up and helped (a little) in loading the van.  When I needed more signs, he drew them.

Discover Local Day (October 14th) 

The day started off slow. There wasn't enough foot traffic at our location behind the Tucson Museum of Art to gather much of an audience for storytelling - despite my miked announcement of Mayor Rothschild's participation.  But Jeremy took the storytelling stage and introduced him. The Mayor gamely shared the city council's efforts to make Tucson more sustainable - including how the park bond would include safe bike paths.


Changemaker's "Design Your Neighborhood" activity was well received. It was a good vehicle for educating participants on complete streets and water-harvesting features. I also used it to lure audience members into our storytelling tent. While families played, I asked the parents if their children liked stories about lions. Then I made Jeremy tell his mountain lion story for them. He must have told that story five times! Sustainable Tucson member Stuart Moody joined in by telling stories suited for kids.

Later in the day, there were a couple of magic moments when community members joined our volunteers in the audience. There was a real sense of community as people listened to each other and responded with stories of their own.


Tactical Urbanism Block Party (October 20th)

When we arrived at  Sixth Avenue and Seventh Street, there were volunteers of all ages painting the intersection bright colors. It was an amazing sight! 

Jasmine, from Changemaker High School, showed up just in time to help us set up the tent. She was indispensable! We spent most of the morning tying down everything to secure it against the wind.  A resourceful volunteer from Living Street Alliance brought by plastic donation buckets filled with water to weigh down the corners of the tent. When the wind blew them over, we filled them up with soil that Tank's Green Stuff had generously donated. We taped paper on the table, so the kids would have a place to draw that wouldn't fly away. When we finally got everything secured, Jasmine demonstrated the "Design Your Neighborhood" activity. She did a great job representing her school and Sustainable Tucson. 


After the event, Jasmine asked me to let her know about the next Sustainable Tucson meeting. She might have some other students who would be interested in attending.  I learned an important lesson -  if we want more teens involved, we need to make an effort to engage them. Then show support by showing up.  It is so worth it. 

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