The following was written by Madeline Friberg-Landon, who participated in several Ironwood Tree Experience programs and worked as an intern.
The Importance of Youth Voice
At Ironwood Tree Experience, our goal is to encourage young people to engage with nature and community. I know from personal experience that you can hear about ways to get outside or help your community over and over again, with it just going in one ear and out the other. But then, something happens that finally makes it “click.” Seeing messages from youth in the form of video, art, poetry, essays, etc., is the most powerful way to experience that “click.”
Why is it that time and again we are most inspired by the creative ways that youth share their perspective?
Multiple people may see the same message, but their perception of that message is filtered by their own life experiences. Young people’s varying life experiences provide them with a unique perspective, and their young age often allows for unfettered hope and imagination. The creativity, innovation, and hope that young people display are essential for creating change in the world. Because decisions being made now will impact young people more than anyone else, it is vital that these young people are encouraged not only to learn about issues that our world faces but also to offer their unique perspectives. In our programs, young people begin to have this opportunity.
ITE youth meet people from different backgrounds, learn about and directly experience natural ecosystems, and connect with their community in multiple ways. These new experiences in the natural world inspire thoughtfulness and creativity, and youth process these experiences through different forms of expression. Drawings, videos, and poems allow them to soak in what they have learned and dream of what this means for their future. When young people see or learn something for the first time, they see the possibilities.
“ITE gave me a moment of clarity – the peaceful, chilled night sky, a breath of salty ocean air. With a supportive community and an opportunity to learn and grow, I was set on a slow path to find my voice, my self-expression … My ITE community launched me into other adventures … I am on a journey to find my voice as a steward of the environment. ITE gave me nature. Nature gave me everything.”
ITE programs not only expose young people to new experiences that fuel their creativity, but they also give youth access to conversations about how we need to change. ITE connects them with diverse members of the community, from conservation biologists to ranchers and landscape architects, and the conversations always revolve around the environment. ITE youth are introduced to the issues we face, and they begin to generate informed ideas about how they want their future to look. They show us how thinking is changing, and the hope and possibilities they see inspire us to do better and be better.
“On our field trip to Madera Canyon something that really stood out to me was the amazing beauty of it all. Looking around, it struck me just how important it is to conserve these awesome places because of the life and wonder they hold.”
Ironwood Tree Experience is for youth, but also because of youth. When youth are inspired and passionate about connecting with the natural world, we are inspired to continue to provide programs that connect them with the environment and with their community.
“Our walk through Lehman Trail, just us 8 youth, was one of the most connecting moments to my travelmates. We walked, and talked, and laughed together in stories and jokes but mostly connected in the beauty of the world.”
The following video was made by Madeline during her time as an ITE youth participant: