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Heartfelt passion and dedication to the environment are the building blocks of our newest group, the youth-led Earthlings, explains Julia Megna, Education Project Manager. Julia says she is “blown away” by the energy of this group of about 20 who range in age from 2 to 70 years old.

The Earthlings evolved from our EnviroLeaders program, a paid internship program for high school students, as a way for Sonoma Ecology Center to offer more teenagers the opportunity to gain essential job and life skills through practical environmentally-focused training. First called “EnviroAmbassadors”, the group of teens became leaders in shaping this new program. They adopted the name “Earthlings” and found that as they talked with family and friends about what they were doing others showed interest.

“When Emma (Melendy) would talk to her grandparents about what we were doing, they were like, ‘We want to join,’” says Elsa Winter, one of the founding members and classmate of Emma.

That’s when they decided to expand the opportunity to people of all ages, she says. Since then, they have been successful in attracting families and individuals to join them in driving environmental ​change through education, hands-on activities and community building.

“It’s really cool to see all these different ages work together. For me it’s been transformative,” Elsa says.

They agreed to appoint officers for the club and now have two co-presidents, a secretary, treasurer, communication chair, events chair and adult “guides on the side.”

There are also individuals who are spearheading projects, such as Gavin Rognlien, a junior at Cardinal Newman High School in Santa Rosa, who is leading an education project to bring speakers to area classrooms to talk about things like climate change or water.

On May 13 Earthlings recorded an interview with a Preserve Manager in England about his job there and the effects of climate change on the wildlands. They plan to interview water agency personnel and Sonoma Ecology Center’s own water biologist, Wendy Hayes.

Their Heal the Valley Business Initiative is a free service to local businesses that want to be more environmentally friendly. Earthlings will work with a business to help them improve their level of sustainable practices. While implementing the Earthlings’ suggestions, the group will award the businesses decals to display, showing their level of commitment and action, letting customers know their progress on the three tiers of sustainability.

After meeting with Travis Wagner, City of Sonoma’s Sustainability Coordinator, there are plans afoot for Earthlings to support getting critical information to the public about new waste standards and practices. 

This powerhouse group held an Earth Day Festival, during which they cleaned up Nathanson Creek at Nathanson Creek Preserve pulling out trash and plant debris. It wasn’t all work though. There were displays demonstrating how to sort trash, educational information on butterflies, a bookmark making table, and seed planting of milkweed, a favorite food of butterflies. A big thank you to Homegrown Bagels and Starbucks at Maxwell Village for their tasty donations.

Earthlings have a lot more planned for the near future, including garden science and fun at Sonoma Garden Park, where a summer mini-makers fair is in the works. You can learn more about their work and how to get involved on the new webpages the group wrote and designed. You can also follow them @secearthlings on Instagram. 

Photo above: Julia Megna, Education Project Manager; Earthlings: Rue Gobbee, Elena Forrest,Alex Reilly, Elsa Winters, Madeline Sickert. Photo by Kristen Russell.