Big Idea winner takes on a big problem

Program to spur youth environmental activism gets $50K grant

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

In the opinion of Oak Park and River Forest High School senior Abby Bankes, a lot of people view climate change as "a far-off thing that's not going to affect our generation."

But at the age of 18, Bankes knows that in the decades to come the natural world will continue to deteriorate, and she and her classmates will have to suffer the aftermath.

"Nothing is going to happen if we don't do something, and we need to do something right away," she said in a recent telephone interview.

Bankes is co-president of the OPRF Environmental Club and recently helped pitch a new program by the Oak Park-based environmental organization Seven Generations that wants to bring more young voices into the conversation.

The pitch was for a $50,000 grant by the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation's Entrepreneur Leaders in Philanthropy program, which annually awards a "Big Idea" grant to organizations working to improve society.

Seven Generations was chosen last week as the winner at its annual pitch party — the group was up against four others. This is the fourth Big Idea grant awarded.

Bankes said she was asked by Seven Generations Executive Director Gary Cuneen to assist with the pitch for the "It's Our Future" campaign.

Cuneen said the funds will be used to help train young people to develop media skills, such as creating radio shows, podcasts and writing editorial content for newspapers. Youth will also learn to facilitate forums with their peers to work on environmental issues.

"The youth who are in high school and elementary school now and who are about to be born, they're the ones who are going to bear the overwhelming majority of the consequences if we don't turn the ship around on climate change," Cuneen said.

Bankes said she has been inspired by activists like Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for her work on the environment.

"[She] is incredible and if you haven't heard her speak, seriously, look up one of her speeches," Bankes said, noting that Thunberg has been an inspiration for other youth activists like the Parkland students working to end gun violence.

Bankes said "It's Our Future" is an important campaign because young people do care about the environment, but a lot of them don't know where to start in helping to fix the problem of climate change.

"It's a big issue to tackle, but it's a big opportunity for kids and young people to grasp what's going on and make a difference," she said.

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Reader Comments

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Carla BarrkitOut from Oak Park  

Posted: April 24th, 2019 12:26 PM

Congrats again to SGA Big Idea Award! & Gary's continued Progressive environmental efforts. Carla

Juliana Eventeur  

Posted: March 20th, 2019 8:41 AM

Such wonderful news! Congrats Abby, and SGA for continued to lead and inspire.

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