Area students pitch sustainability ideas at inaugural BLAST event in Naperville

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Over 100 area high school students recently took part in the inaugural Building Leadership Around Sustainable Transformation, or BLAST, event at the DuPage Children’s Museum.

BLAST program encourages students working toward solving environmental problems

The event was led by the Naperville Environment and Sustainability Task Force (NEST) and Accelerate Climate Solutions.

The idea for the program sparked about a year ago.

“We wanted to elevate and highlight students that are already working on solving environmental problems. but we also wanted to support them and encourage them,” said Cathy Clarkin, Chair of the Naperville Environment & Sustainability Task Force.

High school students submitted their ideas either as a team or individually, then received guidance from mentors to help flesh them out.

Program culminates with pitch night for product or concept

The project culminated with a pitch night in April, with a wide range of projects. Judges made their top picks, with winners receiving money from donors and event sponsors to support their projects.

One of the winning teams was a group hoping to help replant prairie lands.

“Seeds of Hope is an environmental activism nonprofit that we started one year ago with a goal of freely distributing native plant seeds around Illinois to restore prairies…and this is because our prairies have been kind of taken out and destroyed in the 19th and 20th centuries, which leads to lots of environmental problems,” said Aarin Bothra, a sophomore at Oswego East High School.

They plan to use their $1,000 in winnings to create a new seed library, and expand to new chapters, helping to spread their environmental message.

“I think the environment is something that really affects everyone. So that’s become a really passionate issue because it affects my community, but it also affects people all around the world in different ways,” said Bothra.

Individual winner Grace Brady, a Neuqua Valley High School senior, hopes to use her $1,000 toward pushing through a bill requiring Illinois students to learn about climate change.

“As we’ve seen today in BLAST, there’s so many different ways of action. And I think my bill could allow for many students to become advocates, for climate change and be good citizens,” said Brady.

Inspiring others to get involved

The process was an education for the students, the mentors, and the audience, many of whom walked away with a renewed interest in environmental causes.

“It was just really satisfying to hear from folks that everyone went away inspired, you know, amazed. I even heard from adults in the audience that they want to find ways to support these students,” Clarkin said. “I’m just really excited that we’re building this community of BLAST that’s gonna be year round…helping these students with their projects is going to be an ongoing mission that we have.”

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