It tugged at my heart when I read the words of Mark Gold, President of Heal The Bay, in his latest newsletter. Mark wrote about his son Jake, who had recently stopped complaining about being dragged out to another coastal cleanup day and who shared his dismay over urban decay at a creek. Mark mused over his daughter, Natalie, whom he noticed was enthralled by a sea hare at the local aquarium and excitedly engaged those around her to be equally as vested. And I could detect a swell of pride when Mark mentioned that his oldest son, Zack, had testified passionately at Santa Monica City Council for a plastic bag ban.

Kids care. When we empower them the right way, kids make a difference.

I’m sure Mark will be the first to tell you that the Santa Monica City Council voted 13-0 to adopt a citywide policy that would forbid the use of plastic carryout bags at all supermarkets and retail establishments by 2010 unless the state imposed a 0.25-cent per bag fee. (see more here) Today, California taxpayers spend more than $25M a year to collect and dispose of the 19B one-use shopping bags distributed annually. Because I live in greater L.A., I’m going to single out my “city of angles.” Consumers in Los Angeles use more than 2B single use plastic bags every year.

So here we have three kids, each of who affects change by leveraging three very different resources — ADVOCACY, SCIENCE and LEGISLATION. Parental skills aside, it’s worth considering the fact that EXPOSURE, EDUCATION and OPPORTUNITY are the tools that enabled these kids to become change-makers (like their dad).

The topic of youth engagement is a complex one. Parents can feel intimidated when they consider the amount of protest they have to endure getting kids to clean their rooms, let alone getting them to bend down and pick up trash off a beach.

When it comes to “giving back to a community,” I would argue that the challenge is less important than the reward of an achievement. With volunteering, the ultimate reward is earning essential social skills which will move them ahead in society. Volunteering increases a kid’s understanding of the world around them and it also brings a new sense of confidence and self-gratification.

With that, I want to personally congratulate those kids in Los Angeles county, who last year picked up 92.25 pounds of trash! Some 600-students — all 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders – were empowered!

I am looking forward to learning how many more kids Heal The Bay will attract with their event, this year on September 20th, 2008. How many more bottle caps will be picked up on a beach? (Since 1985, California Coastal Cleanup Day volunteers have picked up over 1-million bottle caps and over 300,000 bottles). How many more volunteers? (Last year over 11-million). How many more pounds of recyclable debris? (Last year, over 5,500 pounds).

For more information: 310.451.1500 or visit Heal The Bay on the web: (www.healthebay.org)

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