INSPIRED IMPACT is an ongoing blog series that gives voice to purpose-driven organizations and passionate leaders and entrepreneurs who are making an impact in their communities and industries.
Kristina Opre is the Director of Corporate Relations & Marketing of Environmental Learning for Kids. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and learn more about Environmental Learning for Kids at elkkids.org.
WHAT DO YOU DO?
ELK (Environmental Learning for Kids) is an inclusive non-profit organization that develops inspired and responsible leaders through science education and outdoor experiences for underserved, urban youth ages 5-25.
ELK inspires youth to have high expectations of themselves by exposing them to the outdoors and engaging them in service learning projects. For many of the youth ELK serves, it’s their first experience with the outdoors.
ELK educates youth through science and environmental education embedded in all programs and activities, furthers students’ understanding and attitudes toward science, the outdoors, their communities, college, and careers.
ELK transforms youth by endowing them with increased academic skills, civic and community leadership, environmental stewardship, and employment opportunities.
WHY DO YOU DO IT?
Environmental Learning for Kids cultivates a passion in science, leadership, and service in a diverse community of learners. We envision a world in which all people are caretakers of themselves, each other and the natural world. We serve to ensure that all young people have access to the outdoors and feel encouraged and supported in exploring careers in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK) is celebrating its 21st year of providing interactive, outdoor, and science-based environmental education while developing young leaders and future science professionals. ELK is a Denver-based organization established in 1996 to fulfill the need to introduce and educate Colorado’s underserved, urban youth to science, leadership, and careers in the science fields. ELK continues to provide strong educational support, healthy role models, and equitable opportunities for positive community action for youth, helping them to become engaged, productive, and successful members of society. Since ELK’s founding, more than 210,000 at-risk youth and families of color have been introduced to and immersed in science education. With guidance and support from ELK, many of the at-risk youth we’ve served have graduated high school and achieved their goal of becoming first generation college students. To support our youth beyond our programs and equalize opportunities, ELK has helped our youth apply for and receive more than $880,000 for scholarships and collegiate financial assistance to date. The initial need for ELK’s programming is as pressing today as it was 21 years ago as the number of youth served has continued to steadily grow by 5% or more each of the last seven years, increasing the demands on ELK for quality STEM education opportunities and growing our organization.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO MAKE THIS IMPACT?
ELK’s programming is an uninterrupted pipeline of science education, socio-emotional learning, leadership development, and civic engagement that engages our K-12 students and beyond in learning, while promoting a passion for academic success. Our target population is predominantly low-income youth of color in northeast and far northeast Denver who are at-risk for dropping out of school, teen pregnancy, gangs, and early drug and alcohol use and abuse. More than 85% of our youth qualify for free or reduced price lunch programs. These are the children who benefit most from community leadership development focused on reducing economic, racial, and ethnic disparities and providing them and succeeding generations the opportunity for a high quality of life.
WHAT’S YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE ORGANIZATION AND THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
Environmental Learning for Kids is currently in a large-scale community campaign to build an Education & Community Center and Open Space Park in the heart of Montbello, providing a home in the community to learn, play and create through improved access to nature, and educational and community programs in a safe place within the neighborhood. The project will create space to house ELK’s programs and operations, as well as provide a community center and a green space that is open and free to the public and activated by youth and adult programs. This expansion will allow us the opportunity to serve upwards of 42,000 youth and families per year.
WHAT RESOURCES DO YOU NEED TO MAKE THOSE DREAMS COME TRUE?
Our community campaign to build an Education & Community Center and Open Space Park in the heart of Montbello has a $6.2 million budget. As we are approximately half-way to our goal, we are very interested in forming mutually beneficial partnerships with entities that have the financial capacity to help us make our dream to serve our youth and families where they live, become a reality. We are also seeking in-kind donors who may have the capacity to provide items to our project that will enable us to better serve our community and our constituents.
WHAT IS (OR HAS BEEN) YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE?
Our biggest challenge as an organization has been running out of room to grow. Until we have a home of our own, our capacity to serve and increase our staff remains limited – unlike our need, and our amount of interested youth participants. The establishment of a facility in the Montbello community will allow us to serve more than seven times the number of youth and families we currently serve.
WHAT WORDS OF ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHER LEADERS LOOKING TO MAKE AN IMPACT?
To other leaders looking to make an impact, the best advice that we can give is to know your community/constituents, and make sure that your goals are community-driven. Listen as much and as often as you can, and recognize the power of grass-roots leadership.
Orapin Marketing + Public Relations serves those who serve others. We help purpose-driven companies and nonprofits get the attention and recognition they deserve for the impact they make by securing press coverage, strategic partnerships, and thought leadership opportunities.