Group photo

2017 ELP Fall Retreat

Every fall the Environmental Center starts off the new academic year with the annual Environmental Leadership Program (ELP) fall retreat. This year, the retreat focused on sustainability and community solutions to climate change.

The first stop on the retreat was in Orlando to learn more about the Green Works initiative. Ian Lahiff, energy project manager with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer’s Office of Sustainability, gave us a tour of the city’s Fleet & Facilities Complex, including the on-site solar rooftop.

Students touring a solar facility

After the sustainability tour in Orlando, the group headed to Silver Springs State Park for the remainder of the retreat. Mixing in some fun, the group started Saturday with an early morning hike and also enjoyed a leisurely paddle at the head spring.

Students hiking

Students paddling

After lunch, the group visited the Silver Springs Museum and then participated in an afternoon workshop on climate change facilitated by Christina Dembiec, community education manager at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. The project leaders learned communication techniques to help them when discussing climate change issues.

Group photo of students

Saturday ended with the group cooking dinner around the campfire and socializing with Guy Marwick, executive director of the Felburn Foundation and founder of the Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center in Silver Springs State Park.

The retreat was a fun-filled, educational weekend, and a perfect kick-off to the fall semester!

Group photo of students

2018 Environmental Leadership Fall Retreat

The ELP fall retreat is a three day event that “kicks-off” the fall semester in which the Environmental Center staff and student project leaders gather to participate in team-building activities, enjoy the natural environment and develop leadership skills.

This year’s fall retreat was held at Camp Weed & Cerveny Conference Center in Live Oak, Florida. This “all-inclusive, retreat into nature” provided the project leaders all the comforts of home, including specialized prepared meals, activities and lots of unique places to explore.

The theme of this year’s retreat was “Advocacy 101” with a focus on environmental and social justice issues. Jacqueline Crucet, the senior program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, was our workshop facilitator. She led a very interactive workshop which included role play where the project leaders took turns acting as citizen advocates and elected officials. The role play focused on learning communication skills and how to develop talking points when meeting with elected officials.

Some of the fun, team-building activities included kayaking on the 140 acre White Lake and hiking and birding on nature trails. To cool off after hiking, students enjoyed playing water volley ball in the Jr. Olympic Pool. The evenings were filled with bon fires, s’mores, story-telling and reflection time.




Project Leader Attends National Conference on Food Justice and Food Recovery

On November 3, 2017, Project Leader Courtney Hogan of the “Food Fighters: Student-Powered Hunger Relief” team attended the second annual Food Recovery Dialogue in Washington, D.C.  This conference brought together the 230 chapters of student-led, food recovery programs from all over the country. The network serves as a coalition of student groups who collect prepared, unserved food from dining halls and food stores on and off campus to be donated to community organizations whose clients are in need of, but do not have access to, daily nutritious meals.

The Food Recovery Dialogue was an excellent networking opportunity to connect with other students fighting food waste and hunger at their universities, as well as an experience to learn about various food justice initiatives advancing the movement all over the country.

Featured speakers included conference host Dr. Sabine O’Hara, the Dean of the University of District of Columbia (UDC) College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences (CAUSES). UDC is a land-grant school focused on initiatives improving urban sustainability and agriculture opportunities — the only one of its kind in the country.

Speaker at Conference
Dr. Sabine O’Hara, Dean of the University of District of Columbia College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences

Also speaking was Jessica Felix-Romero of the Farmworker Justice organization. She discussed the intersectionality of food and social injustices, from using aspects of permaculture for community building to the rights of farm workers and the social implications of food waste.

Speaker at conference
Jessica Felix-Romero from the Farmworker Justice organization

Hogan’s favorite presentation came from Tony Hillery, founder and executive director of Harlem Grown. His passion to help young students experiencing the negative effects of intergenerational poverty was the spark for Harlem Grown. He volunteered at an elementary school’s cafeteria and soon began a recycling program which inspired the students to get involved.

After obtaining an unused community garden across the street, Tony spent every morning gardening with the children, which included a composting program – all completely sustained by the young students. Several years later, that small garden has expanded to grow over 3,000 pounds of food and serve over 4,000 students per year! Harlem Grown hires single-mothers to manage the several greenhouses and also has an internship program for young adults without high school degrees to eventually be hired to manage one of the few dozen gardens all over New York City.

After the presentations from the various speakers, the conference broke out into discussion sessions featuring different themes. Most helpful was a dialogue between chapters about challenges each group faces, ranging from lack of volunteers to community partner collaborations. This was particularly useful because Hogan gained a lot of insight, particularly on how to sustain and expand the Food Fighters program. Afterwards students were invited to tour the rooftop garden at UDC, currently growing a variety a vegetables and collecting rainwater.

Rooftop Garden Tour
The group toured a rooftop garden at the University of District of Columbia

Overall, this trip was an incredibly enriching experience to forge connections between student leaders of the national food justice movement and expand our perspectives and capacities for growth with our own local projects.

To learn more about getting involved with the Food Fighters, visit the Facebook group or contact Project Leader Courtney Hogan.

Photo of conference

Project Leaders Attend International Conference on Sustainable Development

In September, Bella Genta and Thoren Perego, two project leaders from the Environmental Leadership Program, attended the two-day 2017 International Conference on Sustainable Development. The conference took place in New York City and was hosted by the Earth Institute, Columbia University, the Global Association of Masters of Development Practice and the United Nations Development Programme. To learn more about the conference and its international participants, visit

Photo of students
Project Leaders Bella Genta and Thoren Perego

The two-day conference featured a number of inspiring and candid speakers including the presidents of Ghana and Colombia, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme and a host of other academics and sustainable development practitioners. In addition, Genta and Perego also attended sessions and panels where they could engage in more personal discussions, covering topics such as, “Agronomy for Sustainable Development,” “Future Leaders for Sustainable Development” and “Water Security in the Era of Climate Change.”

The international conference not only exposed the two project leaders to the forefront of sustainable development theorems and practices, but also provided them with valuable networking opportunities with leaders in the field. At the end of the conference, they both were excited and hopeful about the future of sustainable development.

Panel discussion