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Into the Wild

Growing the Next Generation of Conservation Leaders

Last year’s LEAF interns enjoyed many firsts. For intern Brandon Latorre from New York it was seeing stars like never before during a nighttime beach walk on Sapelo Island. For Albert Leda from New York, it was canoeing for the first time. And for Joshua McCloud from Georgia, he enjoyed feeling ocean waves on his feet for the first time.

Put down the iPhone.

Could you turn down a month-long, paid internship, helping protect a beautiful forest? But there’s a catch: you have to give up your computer. And TV. And iPod.

Now imagine you are a teenager. Today, kids 8-18 years old devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes using entertainment media in a typical day (more than 53 hours a week).*

“We can’t assume that kids today are chasing fireflies or playing in the snow,” said Brigitte Griswold, director of youth programs for The Nature Conservancy. “If we value clean air and water, parks and wild places for recreation and the many benefits we get from protecting our natural resources, we have to actively cultivate the next generation of people who will care for our world.”

The Nature Conservancy’s Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) program tackles this challenge. For 19 years, the program has pulled kids from environmental high schools away from laptops and video games and sent them outside.

Peach LEAFs

Thanks to generous support from the Toyota USA Foundation, 22 students from Arabia Mountain High, an environmentally-focused public school in suburban DeKalb County, Georgia, will be a part of this year’s LEAF class.

Packing plenty of bug spray and sturdy boots, these lucky kids set off in July for a grand adventure:

  • Four young women have made their way to Wyoming to help with invasive species removal, field ornithology and native seed and plant collection.
  • Traveling to Arizona, four more young women will learn the ins-and-outs of stream restoration and native plant monitoring.
  • Delaware is the destination for four young men, where they are conducting water quality health assessments and learning about urban agriculture.
  • In Illinois, three young men from Georgia are helping unearth an archeological site on a Conservancy preserve.
  • Three young women are working in Kentucky, touring caves and meeting with Kentucky legislators and lobbyists.
  • Four young women stayed here in Georgia and were joined by four others from New York. They are helping with trail maintenance at Moody Forest near Baxley and learning about oyster reef restoration on the Georgia coast.
About the LEAF Program

The LEAF program is designed to engage urban youth in conservation activities now so that they will become leaders and stewards for our planet tomorrow. The program also supports teachers at partner environmental high schools by providing professional development.

Students apply and compete for this life-changing work and educational experience, which is designed to enhance classroom knowledge while exposing students to careers in the emerging green economy. Participating schools have been recognized by the Department of Education as schools that save energy, reduce costs and exemplify environmentally sustainable learning spaces and educational programs to boost academic achievement and community engagement.

The LEAF experience has influenced its alumni to go from the comfortable life of their city block to pursue projects in the Amazon rainforest, hike the world’s highest peaks and find careers in sustainable urban planning—all things that would never have been thought possible without their eye-opening internship with this program.

Over 34 percent of LEAF alumni go on to pursue professional paths in environmental fields, and over 50 percent go on to volunteer for environmental causes in their communities.

This comprehensive environmental leadership program for teenagers and their educators now serves approximately 25 environmental high schools in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Washington, Connecticut and Georgia.

Learn more about the students that LEAF serves, the Toyota USA Foundation—the program’s lead supporter—and this unique partnership model. 

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