City, Globe

Celebrating Earth Day

As Earth Day arrives, I’m reminded of a riverside clean-up I participated in when I was a member of my high school’s Environmental Club. With a group of thirteen others, I spent two hours walking along the water’s edge picking up garbage. I was astonished by how much of it there was and disappointed at such a lack of concern for nature. We each ended up filling an extra-large, heavy duty garbage bag. At the end of the day, however, I was hopeful. I knew that I would continue to volunteer for various environmental projects and that there were many more people out there who felt the same about nature.

For me, nature is something that is stunningly beautiful and amazingly complex. I can never hope to understand it, but I appreciate it and want it to remain pristine for generations to come. April 22 marks the 45th anniversary of Earth Day.  US Senator Gaylord Nelson coined the name in 1970 and hoped that by increasing public awareness of pollution, people would become involved. This involvement would then bring the issue of environmental protection to the forefront in the House of Representatives and Senate. I’m happy to say that people are definitely more aware of the environment and how important it is. Nevertheless, we’re still a long way from protecting it fully.

About a month after the riverside clean-up, our club also helped to harvest a community garden, which was one of the best experiences I had. There was a group of young kids present and the adults immediately got them involved. They held several contests where whomever picked the most of a chosen vegetable was the winner. The kids laughed and rushed into the garden. They didn’t worry about getting dirt on their clothes or breaking a nail. They were having fun while also supporting their community in an ecologically friendly way. Having them participate at such a young age also helped them see the importance of the environment and that they can help protect it in a fun way. Volunteering with my high school’s Environmental Club made opportunities like this known to students, but I know there are projects available for anyone outside of this setting. I also know that supporting these endeavors is important no matter what age you are.

Now that I’m in college, there’s been less time to partake in big environmental protection projects. I still do what I can by recycling religiously, using a re-fillable water bottle and supporting local farmers’ markets. However, there are alternative ways to become involved, many of which don’t involve donations. Volunteering is probably the best option. Earth Emerson, Emerson’s environmental club, works to promote environmental awareness and improve the campus and community through student activity. They also host fundraisers, benefit concerts and campus greening projects. Outside of Emerson, numerous community organizations and non-profits are looking for volunteers to help with projects. Greenovate Boston is a great online source that lists a number of environmental groups in the Boston area. ECO-USA is another source that lists organizations by state. If you’ve been inspired and want to become involved now, on Saturday, April 25, the Charles River Waterbed Association is hosting a riverside clean-up from 9am-12pm. This is a huge event supported by well-known businesses and schools such as Boston University and Whole Foods Market. To participate, you simply have to register online.

Know that you don’t have to take part in a big project to become involved. You could do something as simple as recycle and reuse materials or spread the word about the problem. The key thing is that people are learning and raising awareness of the issue. The more people that are knowledgeable on the subject, the more that can be done. Our environment isn’t something that we should take for granted. We should cherish it and protect it like a member of our family, because in way, the environment is a part of everyone’s family.


So You Want to Take a Gap Year

“You need to go to college.”

This phrase has become a mantra of sorts to teens and young adults everywhere. Without college, you won’t succeed or find a job. Without college, you won’t be prepared to make it on your own. Jumping right into college after high school, however, isn’t the only choice. Many students nowadays have taken gap years. Instead of entering a post-secondary school right after graduation, they take a year off. This could be to travel, volunteer, work, or pursue other interests. But taking a gap year isn’t just for those graduating high school. Students should know that taking time off after completing a semester or two of college is always possible.

In America especially, there is some hesitancy over the value of the gap year. Some parents fear that if their child takes a year sabbatical, they will never return to school. Others fear that their child’s GPA will fall. While there may be some truth in these reservations, using a gap year can also be positive. Teens and young adults may need this time to re-collect themselves. The pressure to be the best, receive the highest grade marks and participate in every extracurricular possible, can be very tolling. Instead of entering college burnt out, they can take a short break to catch their breath and do something that they really want to do rather than something for the sole purpose of looking good on an application.

Of course, this pressure doesn’t end once college begins. If students feel like they’re not at their best, then maybe thinking about a gap year would be smart. Others may also feel as though they’re not ready for college. They don’t know exactly what they want to do or where they want to go and students often remain undecided even after a year of post-secondary education. Taking the time to really think about this is beneficial. It also gives you an opportunity to mature and become more independent.

There are many gap year programs available, including The Pioneer Project—an organization striving to nurture a sense of purpose, empowerment and independence in young adults through a community-oriented educational experience that focuses on sustainable living and leadership skills—and InnerPathWorks, a self-discovery leadership training program.

Some of these programs, however, are expensive and those taking the year off for financial reasons may feel like they don’t have many options. But some programs, such as AmeriCorps and City Year, are low-cost. AmeriCorps is a program under the Corporation for National and Community Service which places young adults into service positions where they learn valuable work skills, earn money for school and develop an appreciation for community. City Year is an organization with AmeriCorps that places volunteers at schools that have a high drop-out rate. Volunteers work with at-risk students to help establish a positive learning environment where students can achieve their highest potential. And of course, the option to work part- or full-time still remains.

Deciding whether or not to take a gap year is something teens should think about very carefully with their parents or guardians. You shouldn’t go into it thinking that you can laze around or that it’ll be fun. Instead, you should create a plan. One strategy for high school students is to apply to college regardless. The student could then defer enrollment, but leave knowing they have something solid to fall back on. There are actually several post-secondary schools, such as Harvard and Tufts, that support gap year programs.

The second step for all those thinking about a gap year, regardless of age, should be to make a structured plan about what you’ll be doing during this time off. Will you apply to a specific program? Will you work? Will you travel? Having a structured path to follow will help make the gap year meaningful.

The third step is to ensure you have a personal investment in the decision. This could be in terms of a financial investment or a deep passion for the chosen activity.

All of this is not to say that a student needs to take a gap year. Everyone has their own timeline. Some may be ready to head directly into college and others may not. Making this choice depends not on what other people say you should do, but on what you feel, after careful deliberation, is best for you.


Season of Giving

Sometimes when I volunteer or give back to my community, I am struck with the possibility that what I’m doing is somewhat selfish.

This sounds very odd I’m sure, considering the very definition of volunteering or donating requires selflessness. But I sometimes find it a little selfish simply because of how good it makes me feel. I find myself wondering if that is the only reason why I do it: to gain a small sense of altruism and kindness.

In truth, I don’t really think there’s anything wrong with that. I’ve never felt particularly bad after doing something for someone else, even if it is a little bit on a self-serving level.

As Thanksgiving quickly approaches, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I always feel an even stronger urge to help people around this time due to the abundance of food and family members I am surrounded by. As a result,  I become especially aware of the privilege that I take for granted.

In a sense, my desire to volunteer around this time might be partly guilt-based but it still gets the job done. Volunteering is something I can do that makes me feel better after a long day. It helps me to put my problems into context and realize that they are not as bad as I believe them to be. Helping people can also be a brilliant distraction; it helps to remind you that it is not your little world and that your actions can have an even larger impact than you realize.

So, go ahead, be a little selfish. If changing the world a little bit makes you feel better, it sounds like a pretty good idea to me.