McKnight’s Momentous Midwest Climate + Energy Program

Published on April 19, 2013 | Written by

climateYouthprise is thrilled about the McKnight Foundation’s recent announcement of their Midwest Climate and Energy program – their newest effort to facilitate the Midwest in becoming a trailblazer of climate change solutions. “America’s Midwest contributes 22 percent more greenhouse gas emissions per capita than the national average,” explains McKnight board chair Ted Staryk. “That hard truth also means we’re uniquely well-positioned to turn the dial the other direction. With the right vision and collaboration, we have an opportunity now to use the Midwest’s industries, geography, and bipartisan political will to our advantage for greater economic prosperity and an overall better regional future.”

McKnight invested $25 million to the program and chose two partners to lead this charge: RE-AMP, a network of over 150 nonprofits and 14 foundations working in eight Midwest states dedicated to making significant reductions in climate changing pollution; and the Energy Foundation, a grant-making organization that focuses on expanding the clean energy market. McKnight’s board adopted this refined focus because of the tremendous opportunities it represents for Midwest businesses and communities to innovate and lead toward a clean energy economy, particularly for the youth of Minnesota.

As an intermediary dedicated building effective out of school time systems, and innovation in youth engagement, Youthprise understands the need to invest in environmental initiatives – especially those that incorporate youth development into their work. One example of a youth centered program that works on behalf of clean energy is the Kitty Andersen Youth Science Center, a Youthprise partner/grantee. Two paid youth crews of the STEM-In-Action Program learn and advocate for green policies and actions: the Earth Buzz Crew and the Climate Change Crew. The Earth Buzz Crew learns about human created environmental issues and innovations, and investigates solutions to these local and global challenges. The Climate Change Crew uses hands on activities, community events, and partnerships to learn about the local impact and solutions to climate change. Through these participatory activities, the youth in the STEM-In-Action immerse themselves in their community and science learning.

The Kitty Andersen Youth Science Programs are significant because they target students from communities underrepresented in STEM disciplines: 75% of participants are from low-income families, 60% are girls, and 90% are youth of color. This objective is intertwined with the idea of environmental justice. It has been noted that low income people and people of color disproportionately bear the burden of environmental pollutants, and this program seeks to engage the young leaders of today in making sense of this moral dilemma and implementing programs that combat it.

Another Youthprise partner/grantee that is committing itself to building healthy communities through environmental justice is Tamales y Bicicletas. This group focuses on fostering Latino and immigrant communities through bikes and cultural empowerment. Some programs Tamales y Bicicletas offers are Cuatro Elementos Leadership Camp, Pedal Poder bicycle workshops, and the DREAMER Engagement and Empowerment Project. Each of these programs does its part to support sustainable transportation, local foods access, and youth development. The group refers to themselves as the “Urban Solution to Pollution,” utilizing youth and community building to fight the problem of climate change locally.

As the McKnight Foundation goes forward in its quest to make the Midwest ground zero for environmental innovation, many youth-focused organizations in Minnesota stand ready to join McKnight in spearheading this goal. Inclusion of youth into these goals is paramount, as young people are the ones who are not only inheriting this planet, but will be the innovators and advocates of the clean energy policies and technologies of the future.



Wokie Weah



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