BCCD COURTESY PHOTO Rock Valley Publishing
Members of the Boone County Conservation District’s Earth Force Club are working to solve problems at the local level to benefit their community. This year, the club created a project by making a pamphlet with ways to help pollinators at home and also a Mason bee house to attract pollinators. Members have also talked to other youth about their project – a benefit of which is strengthening their public speaking skills.

The future is certainly in the hands of our children, and one group is giving them a hands-on opportunity to make a difference in their community—while at the same time helping them learn to become critical thinkers.

The Earth Force Club, through the Boone County Conservation District (BCCD), is a group “that is involved in environmental, civic engagement,” Pat Castro, BCCD environmental educator, described.

The program includes youth ages 10-14, and meets during the school year from September through May, she continued, when students come up with a project to benefit their communities.

“We’re looking to solve environmental problems in Boone County,” Castro added.

“It is a great program that is led by the students to take action in their community!” commented Mark Freedlund, BCCD director of education. “This is the third year they have done a project in the community.”

This is “a youth-directed program,” Castro explained. “They (club members) will see where they think there’s a problem.”

“My job is making sure what they want to do is feasible,” she noted.

Castro highlighted that during the first project, students planted trees at Belvidere South Middle School in Belvidere.

The second project “focused on food waste,” she recounted. “They partnered with Seth Whitman Elementary School.”

The club members worked with the fifth-grade science teachers at the Belvidere school, Castro added.

According to Castro, “To raise awareness about pollinator decline and what families can do to help, the club decided to focus on a project for the 2023-2024 school year with several groups of kids; second-graders that came to the spring Plant Partners Program at the Conservation District, the Blue and Green Club at Meehan [Elementary] School and BCCD camp kids for Pollinator Week,” she outlined.

“It was decided to make a Pollinator Pouch which was given to all the students,” she continued. “The pouch included a pamphlet with easy suggestions for things to do at home, a magnifier, pollinator craft and a Mason bee house.”

Castro said the pouch also included a notebook and pencil so recipients could keep a journal of their efforts.

Mason bees, the educator noted, “are excellent pollinators, especially with fruit trees such as apple, pear, plum and cherry, as well as many berry varieties. A Mason bee house gives them an excellent place to lay their eggs and increase their numbers.”

“Pollinators are incredibly important because they spread pollen to other flowers and plants to help maintain plant diversity and help produce at least a third of the food we eat,” she described.

“They did all the research for that pamphlet,” Castro emphasized, adding that the club members also had to research the costs of producing the pamphlet, as well as the associated costs for the pouches—and where and how they would be purchased.

She said the club was able to get a grant from the Environmental Education Association of Illinois (EEAI)—which was founded in 1972 by a group of concerned citizens that included conservationists and teachers.

Castro said club members also talked to the Blue and Green Club at Meehan Elementary School, located in Belvidere about their project, which she said is one of the benefits of the Earth Force Club; talking to groups and building skills “with people they know, organizations they know.”

She beleives members of the club “can make a change. They can make a difference.”

“It’s a super good experience for how to do research, how to be more self-sufficient, and it looks great on a résumé!” she added.

“They have had several outstanding accomplishments, and we always look for more students to join the program each year,” commented Freedlund.

The Earth Force Club will resume in September, Castro said, and will meet every other Wednesday from 4-5 p.m. at the Boone County Conservation District, 603 N. Appleton Road, Belvidere.

For more information, call 815-547-7935 or email [email protected].

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