One Youth’s Journey into Conservation

By Michele Walter

Two years ago I was a participant in the 2014 Get Outside BC (GOBC) project. It began with a five day outdoor leadership camp in Squamish where I met and camped with inspiring young people from across British Columbia with a love for being outside.

My particular journey with GOBC came at a point in my life where I was looking to use the skills I had to be a part of building capacity for other young people to be leaders in the conservation movement. For me, GOBC was a stepping stone to understanding my own leadership style in the context of connecting youth to nature. More than just a one-time experience, GOBC is a 4-phased project spanning over 7 months that provides support and mentorship for youth to develop lifelong leadership skills and love for nature.

During Phase I, the Youth Leadership Camp, I learned tangible event project planning skills and how to bring others to the table when planning events. I then went on to plan a number of events to get my friends and other community members outside in the next three phases of the project. GOBC showed participants not only how to be an effective leader yourself,  but also how to enlist the help of others to fill in your gaps of knowledge, contribute ideas and ultimately create highly successful, stress-free events.

For me Get Outside BC came in conjunction with many other experiences. Before GOBC, I had the immense opportunity and pleasure of being a part of numerous outdoor educational and youth leadership programs that pushed and lead me to be a passionate outdoor educator. The programs were: Catching the Spirit Youth Society (CtS), the Metro Vancouver Sustainability Toolbox (MVST), Leadership Ecology and Adventure Program (LEAP) and the TREK outdoor education program. Each of these programs came at different stages in my life and together helped shape me into the dedicated environmentalist and community builder I am today.

When I participated in GOBC, I was able to witness the change young people went through during the program. GOBC has the ability to provide space and mentorship to both experienced leaders and those new to leadership and environmental stewardship. As GOBC strives to have youth be a large part of the planning and facilitation, I was hired on as a GOBC Assistant Coordinator to design and implement the 2015 GOBC project with Kate MacMillan, the Community and Engagement Coordinator at CPAWS-BC.

Being part of the planning and facilitation team made me realize the tremendous amount of work that goes into this program. The planning behind GOBC is instrumental to creating critical events that get people to shift their ways of thinking, and change habitual patterns of their way of living in the world.

I am very excited to be working with CPAWS-BC for a second time this summer! This year the program is growing and shifting – three community projects will be hosted in Kimberley, Kelowna and Port Alberni with the goal of adding more summits in the following years. In previous years, GOBC hosted one central camp in southern BC where participants come from all across the province. This community-based shift will allow the young leaders to develop a stronger connection to their local BC parks.

This year, as the current GOBC Coordinator, I am working on building GOBC’s capacity to allow for more alumni to take a larger leadership role within the program. For 2016 we have created a Youth Advisory Team and Alumni volunteer database that will help us with the planning portion of the program. One intern in each community will also join the leadership team at the locally-based camp and support the youth from their community in the subsequent phases.

Through this role, I have had the opportunity to work with and connect to so many other amazing GOBC Alumni that are passionate leaders. Alumni Zohreh Rezaiemanesh, Renmart Buhay, Quentin Fox, Denise Lee, Josie Ruoss, and Jay Matsushiba currently sit on our Youth Advisory Committee and assist with promotions, programming planning, and meal plans. Each one of them are effective change-makers in their communities and are a part of a growing movement to get more youth engaged in outdoor leadership and conservation.

My experience working on the Get Outside BC project is more than empowering. Planning GOBC gave me the skills, tools and confidence to plan effective outdoor youth leadership projects and enter a work world of environmental and social change.

The role also reaffirmed my commitment to pursue a degree of Geography - Environmental and Sustainability at UBC. Through this degree I hope to understand the different methodologies for effective large scale conservation that the staff at CPAWS-BC work towards.

From being a participant to working as a GOBC Coordinator, the program will have a lasting impact on the work and learning I do the rest of my life. As my experience shows, Get Outside BC is a program that truly fulfills its mission to “give youth the tools and skills to become lifelong natural leaders who never forget the magic of spending time outdoors”.