Allan Berkowitz's speech from Wake Up to Nature 2017

April 4, 2017
Mitchell Park Community Center
Palo Alto, CA

Good morning everyone! Let me start by telling you why I am so glad you are here this morning. Each and every day our staff and volunteers experience the wide-eyed wonderment of the kids we teach. We are treated to hopeful, inspiring, uplifting stories that stem from our work. I am so glad you are here this morning because we love sharing those stories and we love sharing our passion for the work we do. So thank you for being here and giving us this opportunity to do so.

Many of us are feeling that this is a very different & difficult year. For many of us, it does not feel like “life as usual” following the elections. We have new concerns about the environment, we fear that science is under attack, and we worry about our country’s collective efforts to preserve and protect the natural world.

On any given day we are bombarded with terrible depressing news. But you know what? That is not the whole story. The EV is a good news story. Our work is hopeful and positive and each and every day we are creating positive outcomes and positively inspiring a commitment to protect our planet. And so in the next 30 minutes we will give all of us a few rays of hope.

Just a few weeks ago our staff and board participated in our annual strategic planning retreat. In preparation for the retreat, each staff and board member was asked to offer one word that best describes the Environmental Volunteers. And one of our wonderful board members turned the collection of words into this word cloud.

Look at the wonderful words used to describe us:

Education, Environment, Children/Kids/Students

Integrity, Continuous improvement, Equity

Mission-oriented, Enthusiasm, Community

Volunteers, Science, Innovation

And perhaps the best of all, Aha!

My friends: yes there are things to worry about, but let’s also take pride in being associated with this wonderful organization that embodies all the energy, creativity, and inspiration of a great… big… giant… AHA!

You already heard from some of our wonderful volunteers about their moments of wonderment and the magic that happens. Let me share with you two more important good news stories about our work; and what I hope will be for you, two AHA! moments.

The first ray of sunshine is our commitment to developing a scientifically literate citizenry. Since our inception 45 years ago, we have been committed to science.  And certainly this is now more important than ever. Here we are in Silicon Valley where our local economic engine is dependent upon a well-trained scientifically literate workforce, and yet our schools continue to struggle to provide adequate science and technology education.

The EV steps into this void by delivering 450 school programs to 10,000 students. On any given day throughout two bay area counties you can find our EVs teaching the physics of earthquake waves; conducting water experiments. Our students debate the benefits and impacts of various energy sources using our learning kits that have names like: Introduction to the Carbon Cycle; The Carbon Footprint Game; and the Greenhouse Effect.

So the first ray of hope I offer you is that the Environmental Volunteers is standing tall at a time when science needs as many friends as possible.

A few years ago we had our own Aha moment. We discovered that we were doing a great job educating about the environment, but needed to improve on actually creating environmental stewards. And so we launched Educate For Action, an initiative to better promote stewardship in our programs. We rewrote the content of every one of our 75 learning kits so as to emphasize stewardship actions. We are retraining our entire volunteer pool to promote stewardship. And we engaged an independent evaluator to design evaluation tools so we can track our progress.

If I were to ask you why stewardship is important, you’d of course talk about the critical importance of respectful and low-impact human influence on the natural world. But you know, stewardship is not only for the benefit of the natural world. It has very real implications for healthy human living.

I’d like to highlight this for you. Please look on the back of your nametag. If you have a picture of an asphalt schoolyard, please stand up. You represent the 60% of youth who don’t spend any significant time outdoors. For many of you it is because of a lack of access. Your communities are building over open space and selling off parkland. But here’s the rub. Your lack of access to and time spent in open green space has a very real and documented negative impact on your health. You suffer from higher rates of obesity; you experience lower grades and a higher degree of conflict. Your unstructured time during school vacations leads to higher rates of violence and crime. You are the unlucky ones who don’t have access to open space and a connection to nature in your lives. You may now be seated.

If you have a picture of a beautiful green forest on your nametag, please stand up. Congratulations, you represent the 40% of our nation’s youth who do go outside and have access to open and green spaces.

Research tells us that your connection to nature lowers your blood pressure, decreases stress, boosts your immune system, and helps you address depression. Statistically you will have fewer incidents of cardiovascular problems. And when you become senior citizens, because of your connection to natural spaces, you will live longer. I congratulate you on your appreciation of the natural world. You the healthy ones may now be seated.

While these are challenging times, there is reason for hope.

Beautiful, wonderful kids tell us that we should have hope. They tell us,

“When I grow up I want to be a scientist.”

We hear kids saying, “I just love nature.”

You are here this morning because you care about the environment. That gives me hope.

And hopefully you are inspired that we are promoting scientific literacy. We are developing environmental stewards. We are connecting students to the natural world so as to promote healthy living.

With your support and our hard work, together we can grow

a world of awe…

a world of Aah…

and a world of AHA!.

Thank you.