YES! empowers youth to partner with their community to create economic and environmental vitality through hands-on learning and team-based projects.
Our vision is for the YES! program to be a highly successful model for both youth engagement and social change, empowering youth to drive the vision for YES! towards achieving sustainable best practices in their community.
How did YES! begin?
The first YES! season was inaugurated in 2007, made possible by a partnership between Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center and Southwest Initiative Foundation. The expansion to double the size of the program for the 2009-2010 season, in collaboration with Prairie Ecology Bus Center, was funded in part by the Minnesota Renewable Energy Marketplace: An Alliance for Talent Development. In 2011, with support from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF), YES! expanded into central MN with an addition of 10 teams. In 2014, with additional support from ENRTF, YES! expanded into the Northeast by partnering with Laurentian Environmental Learning Center and YES! entered into a partnership with Ney Nature Center to better support teams in southern Minnesota. In 2016, YES! added another partner, Lakes Country Service Cooperative to build a network of teams in northwest Minnesota. Throughout the 11 year history of YES!, PWELC has been the founding force of the program. With continued support from the ENRTF, McKnight Foundation, Bush Foundation and numerous others, YES! continues into its 11th year with approximately 30 teams participating each year. Originally the acronym definition for YES! was Youth Energy Summit. Today, with the broad scope of projects the students are completing, the name has also changed to be Youth Eco Solutions.
YES! is a unique youth program that develops youth leaders while inspiring widespread adoption of renewable energy technologies, waste, and energy conservation best practices, local foods, habitat restorations, and water quality improvement projects, which contribute to the environmental and economic health of rural Minnesota communities. In addition, students are gaining leadership and workforce skills such as problem solving, communication, teamwork, innovation, and project management. In 2007, Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center (PWELC) partnered with Southwest Initiative Foundation (SWIF) to develop and implement Youth Energy Summit (YES!) as a program in response to emerging issues and opportunities around renewable energy, climate change, energy efficiency, and conservation.
Learning by Doing
YES! provides a unique opportunity for students to learn about energy, waste, local foods, habitat restoration, and water quality issues and opportunities by engaging directly in school and community efforts that lead to dramatic demonstrations of renewable energy technology, energy conservation and efficiency. In addition, the program exposes students to how science, technology, engineering and math are applied in real life and helps them discover career opportunities. As one student said to a local business owner who helped students build solar panels, “we worked on E=mc2 for six weeks in school and in 15 minutes, you explained it.” Participating YES! teams of students from grades 7-12 are guided by motivated adult coaches. Throughout the year, YES! Coordinators work intensively with teams to assess community assets and needs, create action plans, identify and involve community partners, and link teams with further funding resources to match the students’ passions with real needs and opportunities in their communities. Students take part in hands-on YES! educational opportunities during the school year. School administrators, teachers, businesses and community members play a key role on the success of team efforts, working directly with the students or providing education and funding to help them achieve their project goals. So far over 4,300 local businesses, organizations, and community members have been involved with YES!
Through YES!, students are learning by doing—building solar panels, doing energy audits, designing and building compost bins and small wind turbines, growing local food for their cafeterias and more! Teams have reported inspiring results through their energy action projects such as:
- Raising $45,000 for energy efficiency improvements to a community theater
- Reducing school electricity costs by $5,000 annually
- Reducing cafeteria food waste by over 50%
- Diverting 125,000 tons of organic waste away from the landfilland to a local composting facility
- Installing a solar PV system
- Operating a passive solar greenhouse
- Creating a vehicle that achieves 425 miles per gallon
- Educating over 13,000 students and 8,000 community members annually about ways to save energy, reduce waste, and conserve water in their homes
- And more!
The ‘learning by doing’ model also equips students with the knowledge and confidence to share what they’ve learned with their peers and community members, impacting over 125,000 community members and 87,400 additional students through outreach in their schools and communities. Students are the impetus for catalytic change in these communities, changing the way communities use energy, consider buying choices, adopt renewable technologies and view their youth.
YES! operates in collaboration with Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center, Laurentian Environmental Center, Ney Nature Center, and Lakes Country Service Cooperative. Major funding for YES! is from the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF) as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR), the McKnight Foundation, Southwest Initiative Foundation, and others.
In addition to the support of program partners and dedicated YES! staff, teams are offered educational events, activities, resources, starter funding, competitive grants, connections to energy industry representatives, and access to a growing network of YES! students and supporters. Several other organizations have helped leverage resources so that teams have access to state, regional and local support for their work.