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My Sustainable Day-Cation in Burlington Day 5 – Youth and Engagement

One of the things that constantly blew me away while I was visiting Burlington was the incredible level of community engagement in the City.  It’s one thing for a municipal government to put in bike lanes, build some Green Buildings, set up a community garden or start a waste diversion program, but if the community support isn’t there, then those great programs would just go to waste.  Luckily, Burlington is home to some incredibly dedicated residents who work tirelessly to promote sustainability within their community.  We already met Michelle at the Community Gardens on Day 3, and today we’re going to talk about Kale, BurlingtonGreen‘s Youth Coordinator.

Kale, holding the trash can lid, with BurlingtonGreen volunteers as they get out and clean up Burlington every year; it's always a surprise to see what they bring in!

Kale is a being who seems to be composed solely of energy and smiles, whose incredible work ethic has created a network of volunteers out of nothing.  Three and a half years ago, Kale was doing his high-school Co-Op term with both the City of Burlington and the newly formed BurlingtonGreen.  Getting to see both the city organization and the grassroots side of environmentalism, Kale formed a solid knowledge base from which to move forward.

BurlingtonGreen volunteers gather in front of the Wall of Champions

The following year, BurlingtonGreen was awarded a Trillium Foundation start-up grant, and Kale was brought on as the Youth Coordinator.  Kale worked on educating youth within Burlington, engaging them and building a list of volunteers and contacts, and the results are truly impressive: in three and a half years, the mailing list and social media contacts have grown to several thousand members, the Youth Committee put in over 800 volunteer hours last year, and the Burlington Green Youth Conference attracts between 300 and 400 students and teachers each year to learn about what they can do to reduce their environmental impact.

The BurlingtonGreen Youth Conference, where hundreds of Burlington Youth gather to learn about how they can protect the environment

BurlingtonGreen Youth volunteers take part in dozens of events each year, from planting trees to participating in the community clean up day (which just so happens to be tomorrow, by the way.  You can find info and register here) to sorting waste at one of Burlington’s many festivals to promoting transit in their schools.

BurlingtonGreen Youth Volunteers planting trees at one of the many tree planting and clean up events organized by BurlingtonGreen

I could easily write several pages describing the fantastic work done by BurlingtonGreen volunteers, but I would like to focus on two programs in particular: their event greening and the recently launched Burlington Transit Youth Ambassador (BT YA) program.

Every year, the Burlington waterfront plays host to some of the largest events in Southern Ontario.  Huge crowds gather for Ribfest, for the Burlington Sound of Music Festival, and for many others.  And a lot of people in one place means that a lot of food and beverages are served, and that means that a lot of waste is produced.  In order to prevent all of that waste from ending up in landfills, BurlingtonGreen provides volunteers for these events who tirelessly sort through garbage containers ensuring that all organic waste and recyclable material are removed and diverted away from landfill.  Last year at the Burlington Sound of Music festival 27 BurlingtonGreen Volunteers contributed almost 200 volunteer hours to the waste diversion efforts, helping to sort through almost 15 tonnes of waste!  As an added value to the festival organizers, BurlingtonGreen also provides a waste audit summarizing the results of the festival.  Sorting garbage is certainly not a glamorous job, but BurlingtonGreen volunteers seem to always find the energy and enthusiasm to get out and make it happen.

At one of the many large events that BurlingtonGreen helps make greener, volunteers sort refuse to ensure that as little waste goes to the landfill as possible.

A more recent program is the BT YA program run through Burlington Transit and BurlingtonGreen.  In its first year, the program featured 8 ambassadors in 4 different schools across Burlington.  These ambassadors promote the use of Burlington Transit as a means of becoming more independent while also reducing your impact on the environment.  By showing how easy it is to use transit, mapping transit routes and providing grade 9 students with free access to transit every Tuesday in September, the BT YAs are helping to spread the word that transit is an environmentally friendly way of becoming more mobile and more independent.  With fewer and fewer young people wanting to purchase their own vehicle nowadays, these kinds of initiatives aimed at getting people on transit early are certainly going to lead the way as we move away from a car-dependent society.  The goal of the program is to eventually have 18 ambassadors across the 9 schools in Burlington, so if you or anyone you know is interested in becoming an ambassador, be sure to contact Kale and let him know!

Kale, in the Green T-Shirt, with Burlington Transit's Sandra Maxwell, back left and 5 of the 8 Youth Ambassadors. Image from Inside Halton.

After my conversation with Kale, and learning all about the great work that is being done by young people in Burlington, I leave the City extremely excited about the future prospects of Burlington’s sustainable development.  It’s great to know that I live so close to such a wonderful place to work, play and live, and I know that I’ll be back again and again, enjoying all the great sustainable things that Burlington has to offer.  I sincerely hope that you go check it out too.

BurlingtonGreen Youth strike a heroic pose as they undertake their epic work.

Until next time, stay green, everyone!

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5 Comments on “My Sustainable Day-Cation in Burlington Day 5 – Youth and Engagement”

  1. Michelle April 20, 2012 at 9:12 am #

    Burlington youth are our future. We are so glad to have the BurlingtonGreen Youth Network provide an environmental focus .and so many opportunities for enthusiastic optimistic youth to take action to help their planet and community. Kale has indeed been a fantastic leader and mentor. Kale was recognized in 2011 by Conservation Halton as Environmentalist of the Year which he definitely deserves.

    • cleanairpartnership April 20, 2012 at 10:40 am #

      BurlingtonGreen’s staff have been recognized time and again as being vital to the community, and Kale’s Environmentalist of the Year award in 2011 was followed by nominations to Michelle Bennett (of BurlingtonGreen’s local food initiatives) and Susan Fraser (founder and board member) for Environmentalist of the year in the 2012 Burlington Civic Recognition Awards. http://cms.burlington.ca/Page634.aspx

  2. Amy April 20, 2012 at 11:09 am #

    Thank you for this great posting highlighting the important work we do and in oarticular for recognizing our amazing Youth Network. BurlingtonGreen believes youth are not only our leaders for the future, they are very much leading the way RIGHT NOW in taking action to help the planet . BurlingtonGreen volunteers are one-of-a-kind – thank you so much! Amy Schnurr – Executive Director, BurlingtonGreen

    • cleanairpartnership April 20, 2012 at 11:18 am #

      No, thank YOU so much for providing Youth with an opportunity to prove their leadership potential and for the continuing great work you are doing in Burlington! Highlighting your work is one thing, but it’s the doing of the work that really deserves all of our praise!

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  1. Contest Alert – Burlington! | Clean Air Partnership - April 20, 2012

    […] the green buildings, the local food movement, the waste diversion and Burlington’s incredible youth engagement. There’s so many fantastic things going on in that City, it just leaves me with so much […]

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