region10_09When we started our project in a small town called Homer, Alaska, we had no possible notion of what we were actually getting ourselves into. We were simply four young teenage girls truly wanting to alter the way our town was living. We wanted to see change, both in family homes and the general public.

We got our local middle school lunchroom to switch from using polystyrene trays to reusable plastic trays. We also introduced a “Tin Bin” to our local landfill and we held a community-wide “Trash into Fashion” show.

Then we won the President’s Environmental Youth Award and suddenly we were going to Washington, DC, to accept our award. When we flew over Washington, DC, we all looked at each other and grinned. Even after the plane touched the ground we kept asking each other if this was really happening.

Soon enough it was the Awards Ceremony. As we walked through the Willard Hotel, I remember thinking I had never seen such a beautiful place. It was like a palace. Everything was gold. Before the awards ceremony, we got to talk with Lisa Jackson, the Administrator of EPA. She was authentically interested in what we did, and what we had to say.

The award ceremony itself blew my mind. We, as region 10, were the last to go up on stage. We were handed the largest plaque I’ve ever seen. Finally, it seemed to hit me that this was real. After that, there was a luncheon at which Mr. Philippe Cousteau talked about his work and of how he was trying his best to stop the oil spill in his own way. He was inspiring, completely and totally inspiring.

Finally, it was the day that we went to the White House to meet President Obama. All of the winners stood in front of the White House on risers (note: do not wear a black dress on a hot day if you are going to meet the president). He simply walked around the corner. He was sincere, talking to us as one completely normal person might talk to another, as if he had forgotten that he was the president, and was simply a friend. He talked of how great our accomplishments were, and also of how important it was that we didn’t stop here, that we kept going, because “we are the future”. Each and every winner shook his hand, and got to look him in the eye. I wanted to talk, to thank him for his hard work, to chat about the world, and to ask what being the president of the United States is like, but even if I had the chance, I don’t know if I would have been able to get the words out. I was in awe.

This has been something we, the members of EcoLogical, will remember for the rest of our lives. And as President Obama said, it doesn’t stop here. Thank you, everyone who has helped make this happen. It was a life-changing experience.

About the author: Hannah Baird is a middle school student from Homer, Alaska. Hannah, along with one high school student and two other middle school students, recently received recognition for their environmental EcoLogical project.