Opening the Door to the Outdoors

Dejah Powell, Cornell University, ‘18, creates an environmental program for students who live on the south side of Chicago.

After realizing the lack of exposure and resources about the environment for young people, especially those of color in the inner city, Dejah Powell, ’18, decided to do something. She started a program, Get Them to the Green (G2G), hoping to introduce and educate students about the field of environmental studies and sciences. Maybe even introducing them to a career path they’d never know about otherwise.

But what did this all stem from? We asked Dejah right before her summer program was held and she happily shared her vision with us.

Pullman Foundation: Why did you want to start Get Them to the Green?
Dejah Powell: My experiences like participating in a research program in the Bahamas through the Shedd Aquarium, volunteering on a nature reserve in Nicaragua, and now studying Archaea at Stanford University grew the realization that it was exposure and lack of available and existing resources that limited other young people, especially young people of color in the inner city, from opportunities in the environment.

Through Get Them to the Green, I hope to begin that introduction of educating and exposing students to the field. I’d like to think that maybe I wouldn’t be studying what I am now, a topic that I absolutely love if it weren’t for those experiences immersed in nature. So through G2G, we’re trying to open that door and let the students decide if it is something they’re interested in.

G2G students visiting the Method Soap Factory in Chicago's Pullman neighborhood. Students learned how Method, a B-Corporation, is bringing sustainability to the forefront of their mission.

G2G students visiting the Method Soap Factory in Chicago’s Pullman neighborhood. Students learned how Method, a B-Corporation, is bringing sustainability to the forefront of their mission.

Pullman Foundation: We know you previously attended the Clinton Global Initiative Conference, how did that influence your decision to start G2G?
Dejah Powell: The most inspiring thing about the Clinton Global Initiative Conference (which I recommend to anyone who’s interested in social entrepreneurship and making a change) is meeting students from across the world who are dedicated and committed to their projects. There were students working on providing accessible drinking water to villages abroad, students developing apps to decrease sexual assault on college campuses, young people my age starting organizations that bought trucks and provided free showers to the homeless in San Francisco. I was really nervous I would never be able to deliver on Get Them to the Green, but the conference was the catalyst I needed to realize that I could do this. The conference was resourceful and provided me with the knowledge and inspiration to get G2G going.

G2G students work on drawing landscapes of Midwestern birds through activity with the Hyde Park Arts Center.

G2G students work on drawing landscapes of Midwestern birds through activity with the Hyde Park Arts Center.

Pullman Foundation: What kind of support do you need to guarantee success for your three-tier goal for G2G?
Dejah Powell: In order to accomplish all three goals, we depend on grants and donations right now. I’ve applied for a couple grants and that will give us an idea about the direction we’ll take within the next months after the summer camp.

After the summer camp (goal 1), we want to take pieces of the curriculum and hold workshops within schools (goal 2). We will then visit them during the school year to expand our reach and hopefully ignite an interest to incorporate some of that material into their future curriculum.

Then, we want to bring community gardens and aquaponics systems to schools and get students learning and engaging with science right at their fingertips (goal 3). I visited The Sweetwater Foundation, an amazing organization in Chicago directed by Emmanuel Perez, and would love to work and partner with them to make connections to some of the schools we’ll work with in the future.

We also need more dedicated people who are interested in helping our organization grow; educators, scientists, organizers, writers to help with grants, social media representatives, and innovative minds. We’ll accept help from any and all of the roles that could come together to help G2G achieve our goals. We’re very small now, but I’m excited to expand!