One Hundred Miles 100:Next Generation
Honoring the students and young professionals who use their creativity, curiosity, and energy to ensure a brighter future for our Georgia coast
Our coast is a better place because there are hundreds of young people committed to making a difference by giving back. AmeriCorps members have been a key force in shaping the future of Georgia’s coastal resources. On Cannon’s Point, they worked to clear hiking trails for the public and put in many hours on the island’s living shoreline project. At Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites, AmeriCorps members work to reduce invasive species and connect visitors to the outdoor world through recreational, historical, and natural resource-focused programs such as hikes and paddling trips. And at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center AmeriCorps program – named one of the “52 Most Innovative AmeriCorps Programs in the United States” – members contribute to nearly every aspect of the organization, including research and husbandry, community outreach, and education projects. Sometimes called the “domestic Peace Corps,” serving as an AmeriCorps volunteer can be incredibly challenging and exceptionally rewarding, all at the same time. Yet through their service, our local members both embody and encourage stewardship of Georgia’s coastal resources.
It’s been a momentous few years for Deep Center, a local nonprofit founded to address the detrimental effects of poverty on literacy in Savannah. Last November, Deep was honored by First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House with the nation’s highest honor for youth arts and humanities programs – the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award. As part of their innovative Block by Block initiative, Deep brings together young authors who are committed to creative writing, self-expression, and their community in an intensive, 12-month writing program. Guided by adult writers and artists, participants leave the four walls of the typical institutionalized learning environment to conduct street-level community research, discover Savannah’s unfolding stories, and find their own place in Savannah’s larger community. By mastering the art of place-based storytelling, young creators become not just more expressive, but more resilient, adaptable, and empathetic. Embraced by the city of Savannah, the young authors will become our next leaders, and, of course, our next coastal stewards.
Shh! Every year during the peak of spring migration, if you’re very quiet, and look closely enough, you’ll spot teams of young Georgians making their annual trek to Charlie Elliott Wildlife Refuge in Mansfield for the finish line of the Youth Birding Competition (YBC). The brainchild of DNR Nongame Wildlife Biologist Tim Keyes, the YBC is a 24-hour statewide search for birds featuring teams ranging from preschoolers to high school seniors, and from first-time novice bird-watchers to budding ornithologists. Started in 2006, the competition has engaged about 100 young birders every year, advancing its goal of spurring a wider interest in birds and conservation. Kids often move up the ranks from novice first-timers to expert competitors that help to mentor beginners, and some past participants have even continued on to study biology in college. Many teams also raise money for the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Fund and other conservation agencies. In 2014, inspired by the event, fans of the YBC launched Race 4 Birds Foundation, a national nonprofit organization focused on promoting birding among youth nationwide.
For the Hall family of Snellville, Georgia, conservation isn’t something they think of once in a while or only when it’s convenient. It’s part of their daily lives as The League of Protectors. Together Ryan and Nissa Hall and their three children, Alyssa, Seth, and Hannah, pick up trash on neighborhood walks, recycle harmful cigarette butts, and make quarterly treks to the coast to hold their own cleanup events on St. Simons, Tybee, and Jekyll Islands. Inspired by a love of Georgia’s coast, Ryan Hall wrote The League of Protectors: Secret of the Jewel and Return of Captain Wylly, about a group of heroic animals and concerned citizens protecting and preserving Jekyll Island. The family then decided to put their words into action and began using the proceeds from the book to fund island clean up events. At clean ups, the kids take a leadership role. “To see the kids at our events, they’re so happy,” Ryan said. “Holding their bags of trash (they can say) ‘Look what I did.’” During a recent event, the family worked to collect more than 400 pounds of trash. The dedication of these young protectors is proof that the future of our coast is in good hands.
It takes a special type of seventh grader to balance schoolwork, their own business, and helping to save bee populations in coastal Georgia. But Rylee Maxwell isn’t your typical twelve-year-old. Her parents could tell she was a natural when she first began working with bees at only age four. She’s now the young beekeeper behind The Altamaha Apiaries in Darien, Georgia – and “the bee whisperer” to her friends and neighbors. Responsible for caring for roughly a million bees, Rylee’s business (and the bees, of course) produces about 240 gallons of honey per season. The local honey is sold at Daddy Cates Coffee and Hands Down Muscle Therapy in Brunswick, and Turnip Greens Market in Darien; proceeds help to care for her hives and contribute to her college fund, where she one day hopes to be a lawyer or veterinarian. For now, though, it’s all about the bees – Rylee knows they enhance the environment and pollinate the crops on which we all depend. She’s been stung a time or two over the years, but remains fearless. “Bees are just like people,” Rylee says. “They have good days and bad days.”
Nature has always been the focal point of art by Alexandra Nicole Newton, a St. Simons Island native. As a middle school student, Alexandra was a hard-working intern for SSI’s Coastal Encounters Nature Center, caring for animals ranging from snakes to diamondback terrapins and helping with seining programs. She later graduated from University of Georgia with degrees in Wildlife Biology and Fisheries Science and has held research positions working with feral cats to shorebirds, but she never stopped pursuing her love of art. Today, Alexandra’s vibrant paintings tell the story of the wildlife and wild places all around us – from sea turtles to salt marshes, and her ever-popular oyster shells. Alexandra’s passion for coastal conservation is contagious. “Besides the outward beauty of all flora and fauna,” she says, “I am equally impressed by the beauty of the ecosystem – by the role that each animal or plant fulfills without even knowing it.”
Raleigh Nyenhuis grew up on St. Simons Island and has developed an intense passion for every inch of our coast. She currently works as a Naturalist Supervisor on Sea Island and has spent the last five summers collecting data to help conserve Georgia’s sea turtles. As a naturalist, her responsibilities include taking groups on ecotours of the island and educating children in camps about our coast’s plants and animals. For Raleigh, these interactions are the key to protecting Georgia’s coast. From the classroom to one-on-one conversations, she believes education fosters admiration for Georgia’s ecosystem. And with that admiration comes respect and the desire to conserve and protect Georgia’s natural wonders.
Have you ever wondered if one person has the power to truly make a difference? Look to the young founders of One More Generation for proof, inspiration, and a resounding YES. In 2009, concerned about the plight of cheetahs in South America and endangered animals around the world, then 8-year old Carter Ries and his 7-year old sister founded the nonprofit with a mission to preserve our wild species for at least one more generation…and beyond. Since that time, Carter and Olivia have collected supplies for animals affected by the BP Gulf Oil Spill, participated in rallies and advocacy to prevent offshore drilling, and perhaps most impressively, have created their own environmental education programs to help fellow young people learn about endangered wildlife and the effects of plastic pollution. Working with students and restaurants across the state, their “One Less Straw” initiative asks students, families, and businesses to pledge not to use single-use plastic straws. Day in and day out, Carter and Olivia lead by example: “Remember, anybody can make a difference… if we can, you can too,” they say.
For fifteen years, Brunswick-area students with a passion for our coastal resources and the commitment to making a difference have found an outlet to channel their good work: the Salt Marsh Soldiers. Founded by Vicki Klahn as a teacher at Needwood Middle School in 2002, and now led by Vicki and fellow science teacher Sarah Dodd at Glynn Middle, more than 300 participants have passed through the club since its inception. Whether they’re getting muddy in the marsh during wetland cleanups or digging their hands into the soil while tending the school’s organic garden (produce is eaten by the students or donated to the Second Harvest food bank), these young students learn to care for the world around them. This year, club members are partnering with UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant for a NOAA marine debris prevention project. In addition to learning to use the Marine Debris Tracker app, during a recent cleanup the club members removed and recorded 509 items from the salt marsh adjacent to their school!
Organized by and for young people, the Youth Ocean Conservation Summit empowers middle and high school students across the country with the knowledge, skills, and resources they need to create and implement their own ocean conservation projects. During the annual summit held at the UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, student participants from across the southeast brainstorm ocean-related projects and create action plans with the help of expert mentors. From reducing marine debris to endangered species conservation and the restoration of coastal habitats, these students tackle some of the most pressing issues facing our coast. In 2015, the inaugural summit was planned by the Georgia Sea Grant Marine Education Interns Maeve Snyder, Beth Smith, Cara Lin, and Sean Russell, who founded the first national summit in 2011. Today, interns continue the annual tradition of planning this excellent program – and ensuring that Georgia’s young people have the opportunity to play their own role in the conservation of our coast.
Banner photo courtesy of Blake Lipthratt