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Orillia youth 'leading the way' in fighting climate change

Sustainable Orillia Youth Council has 50 active members and several ambitious projects planned aimed at sending 'strong message' about need for new approach
sustainable orillia youth council virtual meeting
The current Sustainable Orillia Youth Council leadership during a recent meeting.


Looking for inspiration in the fight against climate change? Orillians needn’t look any further than to local high schools, universities and colleges.

Understanding the science and the consequences of climate change for their future, motivated young people have taken on ‘THE’ challenge of their lifetime. And they are on it!

It’s no surprise that, across the country, around the world and right here in Orillia, youth are organizing against climate change. What is surprising is how much progress they have made already.

Leveraging the leadership of young people like Greta Thunberg and encouraged by academics, advocates and families, they are increasingly mobilized and emerging as a singular voice in support of their future on Planet Earth. In doing so, they are increasingly becoming a forceful part of the present.

Despite the interruptions and work-arounds the pandemic has forced over the past school year, the Sustainable Orillia Youth Council (SOYC) has continued to build momentum and membership, while delivering some effective programs.

The SOYC launched during the spring of 2019, when retired teacher and Sustainable Orillia Board Member John Knapp tapped into local high schools and enlisted three students - Emerson Garces, Luke Parna-Gile and Zac Waite - to create the Council.

They started with a mailing list, lots of creativity and the goal to connect Orillia’s three high schools. They developed on-the-ground programs that are bringing more and more young people into the sustainable movement through providing tools and incentives to change behaviours on behalf of the environment.

From this standing start, the Youth Council has created connections with each of the local schools. They currently have close to 50 active members, a number that is increasing as their profile and reputation for getting things done travels through the local secondary and post-secondary community.

Early in 2020 the Council redirected its energy and creativity to communications and virtual programming. In the fall, Youth Council members developed a 40-minute webinar called “Sustainable Leaders of the Future,” a program specifically designed for elementary school children.

This initiative was produced entirely by members of the SO Youth Council. It included on-site videos of Youth Council members discussing sustainability, nature, tree identification tips, pollinators, plus a fun segment on sustainable crafts.

The goal of the Youth Council was to make it enjoyable for their younger viewers while providing useful information, tips and encouragement to get more involved. The webinar, which was supported by teachers across the city, was viewed by hundreds of young students and received very positive feedback from students and teachers alike. This webinar remains available for viewing on the Sustainable Orillia YouTube channel.

The webinar was just the beginning, as the SOYC currently has two sizeable programs in their pipeline.

The first project focuses once again on informing and motivating younger people on what they can do to counteract climate change. The SOYC will be producing ‘Eco Blueprint Kits’ for distribution to school-age children across the city.

These kits will contain an assortment of sustainable tips and tools – ranging from plant seeds, craft booklets and sustainable recipes, to miniature solar cells. Once assembled, the kits will be delivered to local elementary schools for distribution.

The SOYC is also in the early stages of their second project – the planning of a very ambitious event: an environmental conference that will bring together eco-conscious groups and individuals from all over Simcoe County to explore initiatives supporting environmentalism and sustainability.

Planning is underway for a day-long conference in the spring of 2022 that will offer multiple workshops and professional speakers. The working title is “Sustainable Simcoe Youth Conference.” 

Their over-arching objective is to share information and to inspire groups and individuals in our region to continue making positive, sustainable change in their respective communities, while coming together to tackle the larger problems as well.

The conference will offer leadership and learning opportunities for hundreds of local youth. It is a chance for the many individuals and groups to form connections and relationships that will serve them well in the future.

The event is targeted for May 2022, tentatively to be held at Orillia’s Lakehead University campus. Once again, this is an excellent sponsorship opportunity for a local business or association to consider.


SOYC leadership elections will be held again in June of this year. All interested secondary and post-secondary students are encouraged to join the Council, to lend their voice, ideas and energy to this critical movement.

Sustainable Orillia, is very proud of the excellent work that the Youth Council has already achieved under very challenging conditions. With very little fanfare or prodding, these young people have gone about making things happen.

They are truly “leading the way” in terms of commitment and creative solutions to combat climate change. Orillia’s youth are sending a strong message – that the quality and security of their future is at the heart of the entire sustainable movement.

Relatives and friends are asked to encourage the young people in their lives to join the team, and to become more involved themselves as sponsors and as supporters. They’re saying, “Together … let’s do something!”

Contributions to the Eco-Blueprint project are welcome. This is an excellent opportunity for a local business to support or sponsor this SOYC initiative. If you're interested, contact the youth council: 


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