Four decades after the first Earth Day, this ecological celebration is alive and well – and bigger than ever.

While The Junior League is perhaps best known for our work with programs supporting women and children – in areas like literacy, childhood obesity, human trafficking and domestic violence prevention – sometimes it’s nice to take a bow for our pioneering work in other areas, like conservation.

Like when the Junior League of Saint Paul established the Lee and Rose Warner Nature Preserve, the first nature preserve to be established in the state of Minnesota and among the first nature preserves to be established in the United States. That was in the 1960s.

Or when the Junior League of Toledo mobilized to address the serious water pollution issues of the Maumee River, a key tributary of Lake Erie. The League’s public awareness campaign culminated in the production and release in 1965 of the documentary Fate of a River: Apathy or Action, which raised awareness not just in Ohio but throughout the nation. The success of the League’s campaign led to an invitation to testify in front of a Congressional committee debating the merits of the Clean Water Act, which was enacted in 1972 to deal with problems like the Maumee River.

But many Leagues continue to initiate environmental programs that address today’s problems. A few examples:

  • Partnering with the Friends of Hilltop Arboretum and Louisiana State University, the Junior League of Baton Rouge is bringing Junior Master Gardeners, a national program, to underserved children in East Baton Rouge Parish for the first time. The program will introduce 160 children, ages 7-10, to the fun, art and science of gardening by kicking off with a day-long festival at Hilltop followed by a series of hands-on gardening lessons and take-home projects.
  • The Junior League of Mexico City‘s long-running Ecology project has not only impacted the League’s home city but also the entire country of Mexico. By focusing on schoolchildren through the development and implementation of an environmental science curriculum, the League was able to harness the energy of affected students and carry its message to the wider community. The League’s initial efforts resulted in the first recycling program in Mexico which would come to be replicated throughout the nation. Since then the program has expanded to include a contest that challenges high school students to research and implement projects designed to promote more efficient uses of existing natural resources. In partnership with the Mexican Ministry of Education and Ministry of Environment & Natural Resources and other community partners, the League judges entries and awards scholarships for environmental studies or funding for environmental projects.
  • The Junior League of Ogden‘s approach to promoting environmentalism and sustainability addresses the issues of poverty and hunger. The League has set out to assist the residents of Central Ogden, an area with a high rate of poverty, by promoting the development of public green spaces for urban farming, teaching gardens and to serve as community gathering spots. The teaching gardens will be used to promote environmental and health education and the urban farm tracts will provide easy access to fresh, affordable produce. By developing a safe space for the community that also provides for the community, the hope is to create a sense of investment in the community that can help break the cycle of hunger and poverty.
  • Launched in 2008, the Junior League of Philadelphia‘s Project GREEN: Using Nature to Nurture focuses on the intersection of children’s health and wellness and the natural environment. Project GREEN encompasses three smaller projects: Campus Community Gardens, The Green Volunteer Corps and the Riverbend Environmental Science Partners Educating Children Together (RESPECT) Nature Club. The Campus Community Gardens project addresses the lack of green space in Philadelphia, particularly in and around schools. The Campus Community Gardens committee will build urban gardens throughout schools and teach children about urban agriculture. The Green Volunteer Corps will provide League volunteers for Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park to keep the park clean, beautify one of the park’s meadows, recruit volunteers from the local community and schools and conduct environmental workshops. The RESPECT Nature Club responds to the need for a much needed science curriculum within the Norristown Area School District. In collaboration with the Riverbend Environmental Education Center and local teachers, a curriculum has been developed to be implemented for fourth grade students that includes six “Science Expo” nights and take-home activities to help children and their families explore science together.
  • In partnership with Rainbows United, the Junior League of Wichita is developing Nature Explorers, an outdoor learning center to promote environmental education. The center will provide a space for children to engage in hands-on environmental science projects while directly interacting with the outdoors.