Western Maryland's 2019 LEAF cohort set a path at Wills Mountain.
Inspiring Tomorrow's Leaders Western Maryland's 2019 LEAF cohort set a path at Wills Mountain. © Bianca Bowman / TNC

Stories in Maryland/DC

Inspiring Tomorrow's Leaders

Youth advocacy and engagement in Maryland and Washington, D.C.

The Nature Conservancy has a vision for a future in which both people and nature thrive. To achieve that vision, we’re working to inspire, encourage and prepare the next generation of environmental leaders through our youth engagement and advocacy programs.

Leaders for Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF)

The LEAF program provides students from western Maryland's Allegany and Garrett Counties with the opportunity to explore local forest landscapes and learn about careers in conservation. The LEAF interns are diverse in gender, aspirations and socioeconomic backgrounds, but the students all share a common interest: environmental conservation. 

For two weeks in mid-July, the cohort of six students took part in hands on field experiences. Ranging from high school juniors to recent graduates, the youth contributed to a variety of land management projects on TNC preserves.

The group helped to install a beaver baffle at Finzel Swamp Preserve; cleared space for larch trees; collected deer ticks for a study being conducted at Frostburg State University; built and installed a new interpretive sign at the Sideling Hill Creek Preserve; and used the iNaturalist app to identify and map mushroom species.

The students were also exposed to the role of policy in conservation. They took the lessons learned from the chapter's vigorous youth advocacy training program and put them into practice during a day spent meeting with local Allegany County elected officials.

Georgetown Day School Summer Service Program

In 2018, students from the Georgetown Day School’s Summer Service Program spent several weeks focused on issues related to local environmental justice. One of the stops on their rotation was the Rock Creek Park Conservancy, which invited members from our staff to spend two days with the students to deliver our in-demand youth advocacy training program.

We challenged these students to come up with a solution to the problem of plastic waste in the Anacostia River. With our guidance, the students drafted a multi-faceted policy proposal to reduce plastic pollution in the District. We then arranged for these students to pitch their proposal to three members of the Council of the District of Columbia. This meeting intensified the Council’s discussion around the need to act to reduce the amount of plastic pollution in the Anacostia.

During 2019's training and workshop, students presented their advocacy proposals to special guests Jess Sanders, director of technical services and research for Casey Trees; Tommy Wells, director of the Washington, DC Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE); Kate Ireland, TNC's director of youth programs; Maryland/DC chapter board member Elizabeth Lewis.

United Nations Youth Assembly

Because of TNC's stellar reputation at the United Nations, we were invited in 2018, and again in 2019, to deliver our youth advocacy training to students attending the UN Youth Assembly. 

Members of the Maryland/DC chapter staff shared how policy affects the environment. Young men and women representing more than 30 nations were challenged to think about conservation issues in their respective countries, and to develop realistic policy solutions to take home and share with elected officials.

Today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders. By engaging with them now, we are imparting to them the importance both of conserving our environment and using their voices for change.