Youth Empowering Youth Through Storytelling

Presented as part of the 2021 Earth Up Conference

Can a collaboration among cousins combat climate crisis by empowering young people to perform bird-friendly mini-makeovers on their homes, schools, and parks? Can a high school group in Illinois restore an endangered species and help to remove prescription drugs from our waterways? Can a college student challenge the world to stop their use of plastic straws? Meet these students, hear their stories and learn how storytelling can lead you and your listeners to direct action through youth activism. Our young storytellers are leading the way!

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Baylee Ritter is a conservation communicator and environmental educator who believes in the power of storytelling, community engagement and youth empowerment. She is National Geographic Young Explorer and a student co-founder of the “Prescription Pill and Drug Disposal Program” (P2D2), which now works in 28 states and 6 countries and has disposed of over 4.5 million pounds of medication. She is also the former student director and a founding member of Operation Endangered Species; which has helped raise and release 500+ species of a critically endangered snapping turtle in K-12 classrooms. Baylee is a former member of the World Oceans Day Youth Advisory Council and spoke on the Council’s behalf on the harm of single-use plastics at a 2017 United Nations General Assembly special session on the ocean. She is currently serving as the Youth Advisor for The Ocean Project and is the host of the Rise Up webinarContact:Baylee Ritter, britter@theoceanproject.org

Shelby O’Neil is currently a sophomore at the University of California Berkeley majoring in Global Environmental Politics. A National Geographic Young Explorer, as well as the Founder of Jr Ocean Guardians and the No Straw November challenge, Shelby has been immersed in advocating for environmental action and equal education. As a past National Gold Award Girl Scout, O’Neil has worked with several companies in the aviation, health care, and beverage industries to reduce single-use plastic pollution. To date, over 40 million single-use plastic straws have been reduced annually from O’Neil’s corporate relationships. O’Neil has also worked in policy resulting in SCR-139 No Straw November statewide resolution and the passing of a “Straws Upon Request” bill in California. Contact:Shelby O’Neil, shelbyoneil@berkeley.edu

Charles, Joseph, Robert, John, Michael, Robert Bruce, James, Will, and Andrew are high school students and cousins who are making a difference.  Individually and as a group they have organized and worked on projects which have involved thousands of volunteers in Southern California and even in several other states and countries.  For their efforts, they have earned the Outdoor Ethics Action Award, the Hometown USA Keep America Beautiful Award, two Congressional Award silver medals, the Irvine Rotary Youth Community Service Scholarship, a Presidential Volunteer Service Award gold medal, and a silver in the American Birding Association’s Young Birder of the Year mentorship program. They have built solid relationships with key community players: the local Youth Action Team, Scouts BSA, Sea & Sage Audubon Jr Naturalists, Botanical Gardens, city waste management offices, and civic clubs. They have been part of successful, ongoing conservation efforts at several schools and parks.  Their current project is to teach young people how to perform mini-makeovers on their yards, patios, balconies, and shared spaces, recognizing and eliminating invasive plants, replacing them with bird-friendly native species, teaching best practices for landscaping, fertilizing, and composting in order to reduce their carbon footprint, create bird-friendly habitats, and fight climate change. John McPhie | jmcphie05@gmail.com, Charles Hiatt | charlesahiatt@gmail.com

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