For a week in August, Portland State University will become a base camp for local middle schoolers from disadvantaged communities to develop sustainability leadership skills while exploring water systems around the region, from Bull Run Reservoir to the Pacific Ocean.
The Youth Leaders for Sustainability Camp, a collaborative effort between Portland State University and Oregon State University’s 4H Extension Service, introduces the middle schoolers to sustainability issues and prompts them to consider how their everyday choices affect their local environment.
For many of the campers, this will be their first opportunity to explore natural and built environments outside of their neighborhoods. “Many of these kids have never heard of sustainability, have never been downtown, have never been camping,” said Kate Williams, a PSU graduate urban planning student and camp organizer.
Each day, the kids will meet at the Portland State campus then head out on a field trip to one of Portland’s watershed landmarks, including the Mt. Tabor Reservoirs, the Columbia Waste Water Treatment Plant, Bull Run Reservoir, and the Oregon coast, where the kids will spend a night camping.
Nine camp counselors, ranging from high schoolers to college students, will be chaperoning the campers—providing the opportunity for the middle schoolers to see youth leadership in action and develop leadership skills of their own.
“The goal of the camp is to study sustainability, but also develop leadership capacity in these kids,” Williams said.
Williams worked with Impact Northwest and the Multnomah County SUN Service System to recruit kids who already stood out as leaders in their schools. The kids are from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, and some are from homes where English is a second language.
“We’re excited for the kids to see that this is what sustainability looks like—it’s multi-gendered and multi-racial,” Williams said.
Throughout the week, campers will be discussing issues like water pollution and watershed management, and working on personal action plans to promote sustainability in their homes and schools.
A student who participated in last year’s camp used his personal action plan to organize a silverware drive at his school, Roseway Heights, to replace the plastic silverware that was being used in the cafeteria. This year’s campers will present their plans at the end of the week at the Portland law firm Schwabe, Williamson, and Wyatt, which provided funding to support the camp.
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