Many environmental groups are realizing that to ensure the future of their organizations and environmental efforts, they'll need the support of the younger generations " soon to be the community's decision makers.
The Nature Conservancy's Oklahoma chapter, for example, found that many of its members were older. Wanting to re-introduce conservation to younger groups, it formed Volunteers and Professionals, a group not just for 20somethings, but for people in their 30s and 40s who have families, as well.
"We've found that when members engage their children, their children become members as well," said Natalie Geis-Powers, philanthropy coordinator with Oklahoma's chapter of The Nature Conservancy. "We started this group so we could build awareness and knowledge of conservation and collaboration amongst younger generations."
Involving young professionals is essential to the long-term survival of environmental groups like The Nature Conservancy, said Carlee Singh, who's been involved with the Tulsa chapter for about six months.
"Without younger people involved, their legacy could discontinue," Singh said.
Originally called the Young Professionals, the group is now Volunteers and Professionals, and has no age limit.
"We say, 'If you're young at heart, then come on out,'" Geis-Powers said.
NEW YORK MODEL
The group is modeled after one in New York, the only other Young Professionals chapter in the United States, she said.
The Nature Conservancy is starting chapters of the Volunteers and Professionals group in Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
So far, efforts have focused on brainstorming everything from marketing strategies, to how to reach volunteers and young professionals, to what the name should be. The Tulsa chapter will have its first event in the spring of 2009, while the Oklahoma City chapter will hold its first event next fall.
Over the last six months, response to the Tulsa chapter has been "outstanding," Geis-Powers said, and The Nature Conservancy hopes to match that response in Oklahoma City.
"We are looking for the people to get this started amongst the community. Movers and shakers, mostly. And if they're not moving and shaking yet, we can help them move and shake," Geis-Powers said.
The Nature Conservancy hopes to close out next year with at least 100 to 200 members, she added. Activities will include everything from networking to volunteering efforts, but field trips are the main emphasis.
"We've found that people are staying inside more, and their children are staying inside more, so this is part of an effort to really get people back out into nature and help them build awareness of what's around them and what's in Oklahoma," Geis-Powers said. "I know with our preserves specifically, people will go there, and they would never imagine that Oklahoma looked like that."
Members also benefit from networking opportunities and the chance to learn from others who share their passion for the environment. Singh said she thought she was alone, but found that young Oklahomans are more concerned about environmental issues than many people would expect.
"It is so encouraging to sit around a table with other people who are bubbling with energy to help protect the environment, reduce our energy use," Singh said. "It's really humbling, and it's energizing."
Members come from a wide variety of backgrounds, from environmental law students to people who work in manufacturing, said Jesalyn Pettigrew, group sales manager for Tulsa Zoo Friends and a member of the group since the beginning.
The Volunteers and Professionals group provides a much larger base for networking and an opportunity to learn from others' experiences and viewpoints, she said.
"There are some things that we all understand, as far as what it means to be going green and what it means to us that we protect our environment, and then we also learn from someone else's perspective " other things we hadn't considered before," Pettigrew said. "Things that we go, 'Oh, that is important. I had never thought about it until you brought it up just now.'"
Many people, especially those around 30, want to help with conservation and preservation efforts, but don't know where to begin, Geis-Powers said. This group, she said, can point them in the right direction.
The group also can help motivate people who are excited about environmental efforts but not good with follow-through, by showing them how simple it can be, Pettigrew said.
Because The Nature Conservancy is a global organization, members get to be a part of something larger, Geis-Powers said.
"Even making a difference here in Oklahoma, you're making a difference in the world," she said. "Lea Terry