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Kaya McIntosh talks with students during Eco Warriors session. Photo courtesy of Dr. Tiffani Worthy

This story was produced in collaboration with CivicStory and the NJ Sustainability Reporting project.

WILLINGBORO — Living sustainably is nothing new for former Willingboro mayor and current borough councilwoman Dr. Tiffani Worthy. Being able to share that interest with her students through her nonprofit All Things Are Possible has been even more special.

With the help of a grant from Flyers Charities, the giving arm of the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers, Worthy and Willingboro middle school science teacher Dinah Wright and others, have been engaging students about the environment and sustainability through their Eco Warriors program.

Eco Warriors creates opportunities for youth in grades K-12 to explore environmental science and career pathways in the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) disciplines.

The program goal encourages students to incorporate environmental science, eco-awareness and eco-friendliness in their everyday lives and throughout their academic journey, and to carry it into their professional endeavors and community service, according to the organization’s website.

Kaya McIntosh talks with students during Eco Warriors session. Photo courtesy of Dr. Tiffani Worthy

“It came about really from a mission to empower the youth in regard to sustainability issues and to enhance the community,” said Worthy, a combat veteran who earned her bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering and French from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

“We were looking for ways that we could be more impactful to the community beyond the individual students that we serve. We thought that if we had a program where we helped the students become better stewards of Mother Earth and better stewards of the community, that would help us to further the mission.”

Her Eco Warriors program provides hands-on experiences and education using relevant, real-world applications of environmental science. The students took field trips to sites for experiential learning opportunities, including wastewater treatment facilities, nuclear power generating stations, wind generating stations and recycling plants.

She said she wanted to use Eco Warriors to engage the students’ curiosities in a way of living and in careers they may not have considered to this time, like jobs in environmental sciences. Worthy said research shows that students who participate in STEAM programs become increasingly curious about the world around them and feel empowered to change it for the better.

“What we did was connect the students to sustainability and sustainable practices,” Worthy said. “We were fortunate enough to find grant opportunities through Flyers Charities to fund the initiative and do some creative things with them.”

Worthy and All Things Are Possible engaged students over the first six months of the year on various environmental and sustainability topics, which included talking to experts and allowing them to get their hands dirty with different projects along with raising them to ask questions.

One of the things Eco Warriors dispel is the myth that students of color are often not engaged or knowledgeable about sustainability. Worthy said, in fact, Blacks and other communities of color have had to engage in reusing and repurposing what they have and grow their own food from the beginning as a method of survival. She said the disconnect between sustainability and seeing minority communities involved in such efforts can often get lost in the language.

Worthy said many of the tenets of sustainability in the African American community could be tied to cooperative economics, the fourth principle in Kwanzaa, Ujamaa. The sharing of wealth, avoiding wastefulness and taking on a communal concept that no one should be left out of using resources can be seen in sustainability efforts.

“We are living it, but there are times that we don’t talk about it, write it down or name it,” Worthy said. “After watching behaviors and the patterns, we realize that we’ve been living sustainably for a long time. We have sustainable businesses and communities, but it’s often not framed that way verbally. This is just how we are and what we do.

“The students were really excited to learn more and to go beyond just recycling, but to reuse. One asked me where she could go to refill her soap container. She said she doesn’t need a new container. This is not foreign to them. It’s just a matter of finding those niche businesses that offer the services they are looking for.”

Worthy said one of the lessons that the students learn early on and carry with them is being intentional about living sustainably.

“On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, we took them on some field trips, like to the Wells Fargo Center where they learned about sustainability and the arts. Some of those students will reconvene during the summer but it just won’t be as frequent as during the school year.”

While most of the students have gone their separate ways in the summer, she said she is looking forward to engaging them in the fall to find out what they put into practice and what friends they will bring with them when the Eco Warriors kick off again.

Worthy, the wife of Rev. Carlos Worthy of the Boro Church, founded All Things Are Possible as a way to empower local youth and to enhance the community through academics, athletics, arts, and awareness. All Things Are Possible also offers after-school programs, Club Cool Kids, scholarships, teen wellness groups and other activities.

This story was produced in collaboration with CivicStory and the NJ Sustainability Reporting project.

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