Kentucky volunteer Preserve Steward Ben Swanson became inspired to work outdoors after spending a summer in Alaska as a volunteer with the Student Conservation Association. In 2013, Kentucky’s Energy and Environment Secretary Peters presented Ben with the 2013 Secretary’s Young Environmentalist Award for his volunteer work at the Conservancy’s Jim Beam Nature Preserve.
As Ben Swanson began the school year at Henry Clay High School, he took on a new role he hoped would benefit his Senior Capstone Project while helping him to accomplish a goal of engaging more youth in advancing conservation around the Bluegrass State. He became a Youth Advisor to The Nature Conservancy of Kentucky’s Board of Trustees.
“Most of the Conservancy’s volunteers are retired, which makes sense because they have more time and financial resources,” says Swanson, a dedicated volunteer with The Nature Conservancy of Kentucky. “But I think there is untapped potential with regard to youth like me who have a strong desire to pitch in and benefit nature.”
In addition to establishing a permanent seat for youth on The Nature Conservancy of Kentucky’s Board, Swanson’s ideas for engaging young people include raising awareness at high schools and universities around the state, fundraising for projects which focus on youth and connecting with organizations like the Student Conservation Organization, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and 4H and Future Farmers of America clubs.
Ben began working with The Nature Conservancy of Kentucky as a volunteer Land Steward at the 115-acre Jim Beam Nature Preserve in Jessamine and Garrard counties where he maintained trails, eradicated invasive species, organized workdays and kept an eye on things. It was a role he excelled at, one usually reserved for adults.
“Ben impressed me with his work ethic, communications skills and willingness to follow through on assignments,” says Laura Cook, the Conservancy’s Volunteer Coordinator in Kentucky. “He is very self-motivated. I wish we had 50 of him!”
In his new role as the Board’s Youth Advisor, Ben now attends meetings and provides input as a student. In this capacity, he hopes to help the Board consider the youngest members of The Conservancy's constituents and to act with them in mind.
“I cannot think of a better youth ambassador for conservation,” says Kentucky State Director Terry Cook. “I look forward to having Ben help us design ways to better engage the next generation of conservation leaders.”