Maine Emerging Environmental Changemakers Program
Have you heard about MEEA's newest signature program the “Maine Emerging Environmental Changemakers Network”? In recent years at MEEA we have identified that many young people are becoming deeply impacted by the powerful EE experiences they are participating in and are now wanting to take action in their home communities. This is a wonderful outcome of all the combined efforts from educators like you to provide high quality environmental education experiences to young Mainers! At MEEA we realized that there did not exist however, a formal statewide network to assist these INCREDIBLE young changemakers, between the ages of 15-30, to make the changes these youth want to see in their communities. Because we have a deep desire to keep these young, brilliant individuals living and working in Maine, and actualizing their innovative ideas to build more just, sustainable communities we have developed the Maine Emerging Environmental Changemakers Network. The goal of this network is to connect young Mainers passionate about the environment and/or conservation with each other, with mentors, and with the resources and training they need to actualize their ideas in their home communities. There are a variety of actions we take to work towards reaching this goal such as: organizing an annual 2-day network gathering, connecting Maine youth with mentors, internships and jobs, providing intergenerational equity and inclusion trainings, hosting a youth-track MEEA's annual statewide conference that is youth co-designed and co-facilitated, organizing opportunities for folks in our network to attend state, regional, and national conferences to present their work and to gain further training, and finally, nominating folks from the network for state and national awards and prestigious leadership opportunities to help individuals build their body of experience. So far in the past two years we have worked closely with over 100 diverse, Maine environmental changemakers.
When thinking about our environmental changemakers work and what makes it have unique value in Maine we would like to share with you the most exciting aspects of this program! We are committed to questioning traditional leadership paradigms and are building an innovative model for collaborative, intergenerational leadership in our sector. The program design and decision making are 100% collaborative, all work is intergenerational in design, and we are focusing on prioritizing the sometimes difficult conversations around equity and inclusion in the environment and conservation sectors in Maine. Together we are asking the question “How can we empower and support Maine youth from ALL backgrounds as they become environmental changemakers in their homes, schools and communities”? In this work we are deeply committed to recognizing power dynamics that arise as a result of differences in our race, class, gender, political and/or religious beliefs, backgrounds and age and engage in conversations that honestly address these. Youth co-develop and co-faciliatiate all aspects of this program, both in our internal function but also in our external programming, and have equal power in decision making. We are recognizing and honoring the incredible skill of the youth we work with and are committed to paying them fairly for their time. We are engaging in difficult conversations, we are practicing systems thinking, identifying barriers and then focusing on solutions to building a more just and inclusive environment and conservation sector in Maine. We are practicing self reflection, and exploring how powerful both data and narrative can be in our work to engage our communities in thinking about sustainability and conservation issues. We recognize that mentoring in this program goes two ways; as established leaders we may be able to provide resources, wisdom or key networking connection to a young person to help actualize their ideas but in turn they may provide established leaders new ways of thinking and doing, more evolved training on issues we have not thought much about, and time and energy to act. We are working on eliminating the barriers that traditionally keep folks from participating in this type of leadership training experience; we are holding meetings in rural locations, we pay youth for their time, we are arranging transportation, we are raising money to reduce or eliminate fees, we hold planning meetings at hours when youth can participate, we are connecting with each other and resource sharing through technology but also in person, we are seeking and practicing anti-oppression facilitation training, we are sharing our stories and are committed to supporting each other.
MEEA is also focused on collaboration as a path forward in solving the complexity of the challenges we face today and the Emerging Environmental Changemakers Network is an example of this commitment. This program is a deep collaboration between Maine Audubon, Cultivating Community, and the Umaine 4-H Learning Center at Tanglewood. The Nature Conservancy Maine, the New England Grassroots Environment Fund, and Maine Campus Compact have also been a financial supporters of this program this year and we are deeply grateful!