Ryland King is greening his corner of the world through his organization, Environmental Education for the Next Generation (EENG). Here’s what he’s doing.
The Backstory Three years ago, King was a music major at the University of California in Santa Barbara and aspired to be a professional trumpet player. Then at the age of 19, he had an epiphany while teaching kids at Surf Camp Pacifica. "I was teaching a disabled child when the child's parents came up to me and told me they'd never seen their child so excited and engaged," he says. "They told me they were going to continue to bring him down to the beach and get in the water with him because they were finally connecting with him on a level they'd never experienced before." A California surfer with a lifelong love and appreciation for the environment, King then took a leap of faith and co-foundered EENG with fellow students Nick Allen and Tanya Heravian. EENG also benefitted from winning a $100,000 grant from an online competition, for which King and his team reached out to their friends on Facebook in their effort to gain support.
The Work EENG links teams of college student-instructors with first- and second-grade classes for weekly activities, experiments, and discussions that explore the relationship between humans and the natural world. The lessons aim to be educational and fun. For a water conservation lesson with second-graders, they have kids brush their teeth while their instructor pours water into a measuring cup. They do it once as if they brushed their teeth with the water on, and then again as if they turned the water off. Then they read the measurements, complete a "fun sheet," and agree to lead their families in take-home activities. EENG provides materials in both English and Spanish.
The Mission EENG believes in investing in our youth. By taking children outside of the concrete jungle to view the natural world, EENG hopes to put smiles on their faces and leave a lasting impression on their lives. King believes that experiences with college-age mentors and fun lesson plans will stick with the children, leading them to make environmentally conscious decisions as adults -- and help ensure a more sustainable future.
The Rewards King, known as "Bark" to the kids, recalls one of many moments that gave him that wonderful feeling of purpose and accomplishment and inspiring him to keep working to grow EENG. "I was walking out of the last lesson of our first-ever class, and right before I reached for the door, I felt a tug on the waist of my jeans. I turned around to see a student staring at me behind coke-bottle thick glasses and giving me a beaming buck-toothed smile. The young girl looking up at me said, ‘Bark, thank you,’ and embraced me.”
The Challenges King says realizing one's power to impact the world at such a young age can be challenging, noting the stigma about young people being too idealistic to be taken seriously. However, he and his co-founders refused to get discouraged. He hopes their commitment can provide an example for other young adults looking for ways to join together and innovate.
The Success King believes his greatest success comes from his ability to take an idea and translate that into inspiration for his peers. EENG gives college students a sense of purpose while providing positive role models for young children. While EENG serves the youngest members of our society, it also provides hope for a growing number of college students who await a tough job market upon graduation.
Since starting, King has watched his organization expand from one classroom to reach to more than 2,300 children. Heading into 2012, the EENG team is looking to extend its reach up and and down the California coast and beyond.