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Whistler Secondary students deliver community climate talks following semester-long projects

The youth-led initiatives were part of AWARE initiative Project Now
A group of Whistler Secondary School students presented the results of their semester-long climate projects to the community on Tuesday night.

In case 2019’s massive climate marches sparked by the Fridays for Future movement weren’t proof enough, there’s no doubt the next generation of Whistler locals are among the loudest voices pushing for climate action in this community.
When it comes to one group of Whistler Secondary School (WSS) students in particular, “They gave me the greatest compliment I think I could ever possibly receive, and I’m not sure what will ever beat this, but they asked me for more sessions. We actually added two extra after-school lectures,” said Taniell Hamilton, a program coordinator with the Association for Whistler Area Residents (AWARE).

Hamilton’s been meeting with the students on Thursdays after school since January as part of Project NOW, a youth mentorship program focused on climate action and engagement that’s now in its second year. Sparked by the student-led protests three years ago, Project NOW helps students plan and implement a climate action project within their school or the Whistler community—with a little help from a local expert mentor.  

The steps? Pick a project idea, create a plan, action it, and share the results.

About 70 community members turned up to the Rainbow Theatre on Tuesday evening, June 14 to witness Step Four of that process. The result was an inspiring series of climate talks that offered audience members a glimpse into some of the factors leading to climate change, actions students and other Whistlerites are taking and a few easy tips each individual can keep in mind as they look to ease their own footprint.

The audience heard first from team Fashion Forward, made up of Lauren Hamm, Annie Sproule, Sakura Lord, Maya Ferdinands, Kira Tomcheck and Sophi Lawrence. After learning about how detrimental the effects of the fast fashion industry are on the environment—for example, it takes approximately 20,000 litres of water to make one pair of jeans and one T-shirt. And that the textile industry is the second largest polluter after oil and gas—the Grade 11 students were inspired to host a community clothing swap, planned during weekly meetings with their mentor Heather Beresford.

With a few donation boxes carefully placed around town, a few more posters made and a lot of organization, the group’s clothing swap event finally took place in Whistler Olympic Plaza last month. Their efforts resulted in nearly 295 kilograms of clothing diverted from the landfill, plus a $400 donation to the Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS). Leftover items were donated to the Howe Sound Women’s Centre and WCSS’ Re-Use-It Centre.

Next up, team Greenspiration—Thomas Rasmussen, Hugo Steiner, Izzy Chafe, Tiana Hauschka and TJ Straver—told attendees about their work interviewing members of Whistler’s business and non-profit community about each organization’s environmental initiatives. The group of five students wrote, compiled, and published those interviews in a booklet they handed out at Tuesday’s event.

Finally, WSS’ Eco-Club—Hamm, Ferdinands, Phoenix Stanshall, Tomcheck and Sproule, led by presidents Rasmussen and Steiner—talked about their hard-fought efforts, helped by teacher Emma Stapleton, to bring recycling back to their classrooms after the blue bins were ditched during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Students aren’t just heading into the summer armed with the environmental knowledge they gained during their weekly meetings with Hamilton over the past five months, but with valuable project-management skills.

The students and their work “refilled my hope,” Hamilton said following the presentations.

“I know that sometimes it can feel daunting and it can feel like you’re not having an impact, but never underestimate the small impacts because they truly do make a huge difference,” she told the group.

The event was coordinated by students Jovan Ferdinands and Hamm, and co-hosted by Sierra Haziza, a recent WSS grad and former president of the school’s Eco Club who’s now spending her summers working with AWARE as a climate action assistant.

Whistler’s environmental non-profit “now runs 20 plus programs and Project NOW has really been one of the guiding lights of our work over the last few years,” said AWARE executive director Claire Ruddy. “It’s been a joy to see it survive through COVID, and then also to see the kids coming back the second year and really having the opportunity to be active and to be running their programs in the community.”

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