Ardea Youth Climate Leaders

In 2019 several community members came together Including Jenny Doezema, VP of Learning and Engagement at the nature center and a member of the Kalamazoo Climate Crisis Coalition, Deb Frieman and Deirdre Courtney representing Schools for Climate Action, and Todd Bannon, formerly of Great Lakes Peace Jam, as they saw a need in our community for informing young folks about climate change, knowing that the climate crisis will deeply affect their generation and those to come more greatly than adult generations today. With the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, the community wasn’t sure if we would be able to see this program through, but the Nature Center hired a new educator, Amber Hejl, and with her facilitation and program building skills, the nature center was able to successfully launch our Youth Climate Leaders program in August of 2020!

During that first year, our team of students spent a lot of time at Heronwood Field Station. Our resident Great Blue Heron visited them often and brought a sense of awe and hope in a tumultuous time. Inspired by their interactions with the Heron, they decided to adopt the name Ardea, the genus name for herons. They have now carried that name and the wisdom and strength of the heron through each new school year, and years to come.

Our program focuses on a peer education model. We utilize a non-partisan approach that presents science-based facts and encourages critical thinking. Our leaders learn to define and verbalize their own values, provide hope and pathways to change, and gain the ability to advocate for their own futures. As a community we believe it is integral that we support high school age youth as they embark on becoming the next leaders of our nations and to give teens the tools to advocate for a resilient future and to share accurate information with their peers and community.

Our two-part program begins with a mandatory comprehensive 40-hour leadership training week that combines climate change education and facilitated leadership team building. The training week is divided into three parts and includes the topics below:

Ardea at the river

Look inward (Day 1 and 2)

Explore our personal connection to nature, climate emotions, and skills 

We come together as a team of like-minded individuals to set the tone for comradery, social and emotional safety, respect, and support. We will reflect and create a map of our personal life story and relationship with the natural world, reconnecting us to our values and motivations that bring us into climate engagement. We will explore and welcome our climate emotions and reflect on the guidance they may offer. To complete our inward exploration, we will identify, honor, and prepare to foster our unique skills and qualities that will contribute to the teams’ collective transformation.  

Ardea Youth Climate Leaders

Look outward (day 3 and 4 – learning focused days with speakers)

Learn about climate change, climate solutions, and community

Through the support of experts in the community, including prior Ardea leaders, we will learn about climate change under the scope of various lenses. Climate focused topics will include:

  • Basic science and history: MEECS climate change lessons
  • Social impacts: People, culture, and community
  • Policy and lobbying for the climate: EnRoads
  • Personal story sharing and making space for the stories of others
  • Climate communication with empathy: understanding the values behind the motivation and how to connect with anyone
  • Local environmental justice using EGLE’s MiEJscreen tool
  • Climate solutions with support of MiCAN strategic plan and EGLE’s MI healthy climate plan as our guide in understanding local needs
  • Youth climate leaders around the world and their impacts

Using our team’s energy and curiosity to filter the content, and with connection to our unique contexts and communities, we can decide where we want to engage and who our collaborators could be.


 Ardea at heronwood

Look forward (Friday w/overnight) 

Create an Ardea climate action plan

We plan next steps to deepen our climate engagement. We reflect, brainstorm, navigate and narrow our focus for purposeful planning. As we gain insights, we will make intentional decisions to create an impactful action plan for the pursuit of climate education and advocacy throughout the school year.  

Once their training week is complete, leaders will meet no less than bi-weekly to collaborate, discuss, and plan future presentations and projects. They will also be offered new learning opportunities from professional speakers and additional resources and will support their peers to seek out additional advocacy resources and extracurricular learning opportunities, to organize other student led initiatives, and to connect with mentors and teachers to advocate for climate focused change in their schools and communities.   

If you are an educator, community member, advocate, etc. and are interested in teaching, mentoring or supporting our young folks during our leadership week or meetings throughout the academic year please reach out to the program coordinator at 269.459.8500 or email at

Ardea Logo

To meet and connect with the current Ardea youth climate leaders and see what they are up to please visit their Instagram @ardeayouthcc   

Want to be an Ardea Youth Climate Leader? 

Applications open yearly from March-April for the next school year. 

Who we are looking for: 

We are looking for youth that are interested in building their knowledge and skills for leadership in climate change advocacy. We are excited to support youth who want to increase their ability to teach and speak to their peers about environmental issues that are impacting their community and their world. These might be young people who have not previously had background knowledge of climate change but have an eagerness to learn about changing the way our societal structures address the human connection to our environment. We are looking to engage young folks from all walks of life who want to influence their peers in positive ways and make changes for our collective futures surrounding climate change. 

Benefits of being a YCL Peer Educator:

  • Join a community of youth interested in learning about climate change 
  • Earn a stipend based on hours invested in meeting attendance and peer education 
  • Gain public speaking, empathy and listening skills 
  • Looks great on job and college applications 
  • Gain professional development, leadership and time management skills 
  • Groundwork training in topics related to climate change/action 
  • Network with city, county, state, and national organizations and potential future employers 

It takes commitment, are you ready?
Being a Youth Climate Leader means:

  • A willingness to dedicate time spent outside of meeting times to further your peer education goals with the team  
  • Showing up with a commitment to the program, willingness to learn, to share your own voice, and an openness to ideas and value perspectives other than your own 
  • demonstrate healthy decision-making skills and behaviors while serving as a positive role model for your peers 
  • Time management is very important, as a Youth Climate Leader it is expected that your commitments, tasks/duties, and meetings for this program are made a priority – please make sure you are able to dedicate the time.  
  • An eagerness to learn about climate change, no background knowledge required! 

Applications are being accepted now through April 26 for the 24-25 school year