This post is the second in a series spotlighting teen advocates, youth leaders who speak up about school wellness and envrironmental issues that affect them most. Thanks to HSC intern Christine Andersen, who is beginning her senior year of high school, for this post!
How did you become interested in environmental advocacy?
In 9th grade, I became involved with Catalyst. At first, my priority was the tobacco industry, but my interests transitioned to obesity during my junior year.
What methods are you using to raise awareness and rally support for your initiative?
I became very involved in my school’s wellness committee. I promoted having healthier food in the school store. My work with Catalyst included research and blogging about the benefits of healthier food in schools.
What role has your school administration played in helping you raise support?
While they were interested in improving health and wellness in our district, the administration was more focused on health and wellness in the elementary school than in the high school. A lot of their time was spent on other important projects, so I took initiative without as much help as I would have liked.
What was the immediate reaction when you began advocating for wellness? Have those reactions changed?
When the new food was implemented in the school store, we carried out taste tests, and we found that the students were definitely receptive to the granola and the dried fruit. However, the students did continue to buy the soda that was in the vending machines.
What adults have inspired you along the way? What teens have inspired you along the way?
My advisor, Andy, is such an inspiration to me because he is so excited about what he does and brings so much passion and enthusiasm every day. There are many people from other schools on the [Catalyst] Youth Board that have done so much and put so much heart into what they do.
How has being involved with wellness advocacy in your school helped shape your personal outlook on these concerns and your daily life?
I am currently vegetarian for political reasons, and I continue to drink sugar-free beverages. In college, my politics class was a lot more meaningful to me because I had such strong background knowledge of health policy. This course helped me to see the big picture of everything I had been working on.
What message or piece of advice would you like to send to other aspiring teen advocates?
I would definitely tell them to be persistent. Don’t be intimidated by the large forces. The more you push for the smaller, more specific goals, the greater the impact you will have. If you aim your efforts toward the local level, you will be much more successful, and have a greater impact on individual lives.
What do you hope to do in this area in the future, what is your next step?
In my day-to-day life, I hope to continue to do more blogging about health and wellness. I also plan to continue biking and buying locally grown foods. There is a school district about 20 minutes away from me that I hope to work with in improving the healthy choices it offers its students.
Really inspirational, Mariah! Stay posted for more teen advocate spotlights in this series.