Activating youth leadership through water stewardship programming

Two people stand with storm drain stencil in front of Como Lake

Our youth leaders hosted two recent events, including this storm drain stenciling outing at Como Lake for other youth.

What do water stewardship and education events look like when they're run by youth?

At the end of our Environmental Stewardship Institute (ESI) summer intensive program this year, we worked alongside ESI youth leaders to plan and facilitate two events. Both were part of our Water Knowledge Network series we're running in our communities to increase clean water knowledge and cultivate connections to water stewardship through art, science and personal reflection.

Through these events, ESI fellows continued gaining leadership experience. They applied their summer training, preparing educational content and organizing program logistics — from equipment and supplies to food and outreach to the community. And they co-facilitated both events alongside FMR staff, community partners and community artists

Here's a peek into these youth-led events.

An intergenerational artmaking and learning workshop

In collaboration with St. Paul Public Arts eARTh Lab interns, ESI participants held their first St. Paul Water Knowledge Network event in early August at Hidden Falls Regional Park. They invited family groups to attend and enjoy an evening of artmaking, learning and eating together: an intergenerational gathering for youth and adults to discuss their unique relationships to water and how it impacts their lives. 

Participants drew images and words reflecting what they loved about water. Our staff explained some of the challenges that human impacts pose on the natural habitat along the Mississippi River corridor.

Then the group participated in a scavenger hunt created by ESI fellows that focused on invasive, or displaced, species that are most prevalent in Minnesota, such as buckthorn and invasive carp. The evening concluded with an art project utilizing eARTh Lab stencils of native plants and animals to stamp, paint and decorate reusable tote bags. 

Read our ESI fellows' reflections on their event.

Storm drain stenciling outing

The second event in October was run by youth for youth. The ESI Council reached out to youth environmentalists and students in the metro area and organized a storm drain stenciling outing at Como Lake. 

They started the event with a water quality discussion that flowed from the negative effects of water pollutants like road salt, excess leaves and grass clippings to the stewardship initiatives led by Capitol Region Watershed District and Como residents around Como Lake, like raking leaves and clearing the area around storm drains. (Want to know more about the top 8 runoff pollutants in the metro? Check out our video!)

Event participants talked about Como Lake’s long history of poor water quality due to excess phosphorus. These high phosphorus levels cause harmful algae blooms seen in many of Minnesota’s lakes.

Then the ESI Council led participants in a storm drain stenciling activity, painting the reminder “Keep ‘Em Clean, Drains to Lake” next to the storm drains in the surrounding neighborhood. 

Afterward, we were excited to see that youth participants showed increased interest in supporting the health of their watershed by changing their personal actions and practices to protect the river and improve water quality. 

A youth participant shared, "I think 'unofficially adopting' a storm drain near me would help improve water quality in my neighborhood as well as removing any leaves, soil, sediment or pollution every so often." One participant plans to adopt a drain in their neighborhood.

ESI council member Brandon shared, "Being more conscious about how [pollutants], even in the smallest quantity, can majorly affect the watershed around me. Being more resourceful about the quantity of salt used to melt snow is one way I will protect the natural water bodies around me."

Through events like these, we see youth identifying things they can do to protect the Mississippi River and its watershed  — on their own and with others. 

Working together

Special thanks to our funders Capitol Region Watershed District, who supported the ESI leadership development program and our Water Knowledge Network events, and the City of St. Paul for supporting our storm drain stenciling program

Learn more about our Environmental Stewardship Institute

ESI's summer intensive program and school-year youth advisory council are extensions of our career pathways program for high school-aged youth. Find out more about the program and apply.

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