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Environmental Camp About More Than Making S’mores

Greenworks educates Kansas City kids about the green jobs of today and tomorrow

Greenworks In Kansas City, a local nonprofit, works to connect kids and young adults with environmental education and job opportunities.
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Outside of Anita Gorman B. Gorman Conservation Discovery Center, a dozen Kansas City middle schoolers set cardboard boxes on the sidewalk.

Each box (or solar oven) was lined with aluminum foil and had the top covered with plastic wrap to harness the awesome power of the sun to achieve the ultimate goal: to make some s’mores.

Fun activities like this were par for the course during a recent week of environmental education put on by Greenworks In Kansas City, a local nonprofit that aims to connect kids and young adults with environmental education and job opportunities.

This summer marked Greenworks’ pilot ECO Career Camp led by instructors Queen Wilkes and Desiree Smith, whose goal was to connect the enrolled middle schoolers with concepts around climate change.

The plastic wrap on top of the solar ovens, for example, represents the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

“Carbon dioxide stops the heat from leaving the atmosphere,” explained Wilkes as students prepared the ovens. “And when the sunlight reflected by the aluminum foil has nowhere to go, it cooks our s’mores.”

While the s’mores in this particular exercise represent life on a warming planet, Greenworks knows that these metaphors (sometimes literally sugar-coated) make important points that shouldn’t be skirted when talking to kids.

“We want them to be conscious of the issues because we want them to know that they can change it,” Wilkes said.

Throughout the week, students from Kansas City Public Schools took trips to meet some of the people working to adapt the world to a changing climate. The kids heard from Evergy engineers, water treatment specialists and climate activists. They toured facilities such as the Lakeside Nature Center that highlight the importance of conservation.

Not only is the program an introduction into possible environmentally focused careers a smart investment for our planet’s health, but also for future job security.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor projections, the two fastest growing occupations by 2026 are expected to be solar installers and wind service technicians (105% and 96% increases, respectively).

As more green jobs sprout, so do other surrounding industries that meet that demand.

“There are other jobs I can do like being a welder,” said 12-year-old Mujahid Udofia. “Because that’s another part of working at the energy plant.”

Seeing ideas click in her students’ minds is what keeps Wilkes positive when thinking about climate change.

“Kids inspire you to have so much creativity in how you can adapt to your environment,” Wilkes said. “As we have new minds and we have new people entering these environmental fields, we burst the echo chamber of what is possible and we can come up with new solutions.”

Cody Boston is a video producer for Kansas City PBS.

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