Cottonwood Institute works closely with our school and community partners to make sure that our programs meet a real community need and values student voices. Now entering its third year, the Changemaker Program engages CAP class alums through a yearlong leadership program. In 2021, students identified relationship building as our goal in response to the isolation of COVID. For this year past, students wanted to focus on service to their community, and we wove this theme throughout our field excursions and action project. Our 2022-23 crew had high school students ranging from freshmen to seniors, all Cottonwood program alums from four different schools. We spent our first semester getting to know each other while doing service projects and campouts.
The 2022-2023 Changemakers cohort hit the ground running with map and compass skills at our initial interest meeting and by the next meeting, a hike in Boulder’s Flatirons, we had eighteen students registered for the program!
The service projects first semester included picking up trash along Boulder Creek, partnering with the City of Longmont to learn about and care for wilderness restoration tools, and making our voices heard at a city Parks and Recreation Board meeting. We spent a beautiful autumn weekend partnering with Wildlands Restoration Volunteers to restore watersheds in the Cameron Peak wildfire area and camping out at Ben Delatour Scout Ranch where we all became experts at making fires and playing Camouflage.
We closed out the semester with a Solstice hike and then a field day to Barr Lake State Park. The theme was food acquisition! We learned animal tracking, cooking over an open fire, and archery skills.
In January, we kicked off the New Year with a white elephant gift exchange and bonfire potluck. Then later in the month, the Changemakers spent a long weekend earning their Wilderness First Aid certifications with Backcountry Pulse. In between first aid scenarios and lectures, we began having conversations about environmental and social justice issues that we all feel passionate about. Our students are very environmentally savvy and had conversations about the environmental effects of period products, consumerism, and product design. We all began to feel really excited about working together for our spring action project.
The highlight of our winter was snow camping at State Forest State Park. Temperatures hovered just above zero while we built snow shelters that we slept in that night under a glittering star-filled sky. The next morning we woke to boots frozen solid and hot cocoa around the fire. We slid down snowy slopes and learned about ice rescue from a friendly ranger.
By the end of February our students had decided that they wanted to explore alternatives to the environmentally disastrous and socially unjust fast fashion industry. During the spring we spent time researching the issue, reading articles, and watching documentaries. Students learned how to repair and care for clothes they already owned. They learned tips and tricks of low-budget thrift shopping on a trip to the local ARC store. We spent an unseasonably warm afternoon learning how to mend and embellish our clothes, de-stressing from school and sewing together.
Our spring trip was action project focused. We participated in the Fashion and Circular Economy Symposium at CSU and visited the Fashion Museum, marvelling at the difference in workmanship of the well-made clothes of the past. We camped out and went to the Goodwill Outlet in the morning to see where unwanted clothing from thrift stores makes its last stop before being baled and shipped to third world countries where most of it becomes waste. We rescued more than 200 shirts in order to give them new life. We then went to The Ink Lounge where we learned how to silk screen – all a part of our plan for our Earth Day Action Project.
Our project culminated at Lafayette’s Earth Day Every Day celebration. Changemakers shared what they had learned about fast fashion with the public as they helped people silk screen their very own upcycled, environmentally sustainable t-shirts. Changemakers ended the day hot, tired and covered with silk screen ink, but filled with the satisfaction of having made a difference educating the community.
The grand finale of the Changemaker year was our summer backpacking trip planned by our student assistant instructors. We spent several hot days backpacking in Big Dominguez Canyon and cooling off in the river. Our days ended with evening games of sardines and stargazing. We hiked out of the canyon to meet up with Colorado Canyons Association who took us on a two day rafting trip on the Gunnison River. We spent the night at a sustainable agriculture orchard before continuing down the river, with the students learning to work the oars and guide the rafts. On the trip we learned to overcome adversity and discomfort and find the fun and learning in whatever life throws at us.
This year was packed with fun adventures, an incredible action project, and bonding amongst our group. We’re so excited to see what the 2023-24 season brings with a new group of Changemakers and assistant instructors starting this fall!
The Changemakers program is 100% free for students. Each member participates in biweekly meetings, monthly field excursions, and a Wilderness First Aid course, with all food, programming, and transportation provided by Cottonwood Institute. If our mission resonates with you, would you consider making a one-time gift or becoming a member of the Seedling Monthly Giving Program to help us continue to run programs like this?
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