Each month we feature a new charity to share with our readers in hopes that they might donate to or at least spread the word to others for awareness. For March, we are profiling Yellowstone Country Guardians.
Yellowstone National Park is one of the world’s sacred treasures. This grand park is filled with wild beauty, from roaming bears and bison to steaming geysers and serene rivers. The park’s fragile ecosystem does not stop at the boundaries, though. Former Park Ranger Michael Leach founded Yellowstone Country Guardians (YCG) in an effort to reach out to surrounding communities and offer opportunities for young people to learn how to protect and enjoy the beautiful land in which they live.
“One of the greatest threats to our planet is an apathetic youth,” says Leach. “We must galvanize and inspire the next generation of environmental stewards and guardians. The youth don’t simply represent the future leaders in conservation, they represent the here and now. I wanted to create environmental programming that inspired young teens to care and to care deeply.”
Leach says that Yellowstone also needs people who are willing to take risks. “After ten years of living and breathing Yellowstone, I’ve come to the conclusion that while the existing agencies and organizations have made great strides and will no doubt remain a vital part of preserving this landscape into the future, we need more,” he says. Leach would like to see more passionate, committed community leaders who are willing to dedicate their lives to protecting this sacred land.
Armed with a small board of directors of various backgrounds in conservation, education and environmental studies, Leach set out to make a difference.
Now in its fifth year, Yellowstone Country Guardians offers a variety of programs throughout the summer months and holds after-school programs at a local high school. YCG is known for its energetic, non-conventional programming and its fresh approach to environmental education that resonates with teens. Yellowstone Leadership Challenge (YLC) is an overnight program in October, and River Guardian Fly Fishing School (RGFFS) is a 40-hour day program held in August.
Per Leach, “A typical YCG program day consists of a service project that gives back to our community and the environment such as working with Yellowstone National Park’s Bear Management team to build the foundation for bear boxes (large, 400 pound metal boxes that campers use to store their food, protecting both campers and bears), working with the Wolf Study Team on restoration projects to rehabilitate areas in the park that have been degraded, or working with the Forest Service and exotic nuisance species specialists to remove invasive species through a large weed pull effort.”
“Every day includes a classroom session with expert guest speakers linking the curriculum for that day with work in the field,” says Leach. “Getting inspired by getting out on the landscape through whitewater rafting, hiking, fishing, wildlife watching, or simply observing the countless scenic wonders of Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding area is a big part of each day in a YCG program.”
In 2011, over 700 students were involved in the programs, and community service workers and volunteers served over 1,000 hours. YCG also collaborated with other nonprofits to facilitate empowering experiences in Yellowstone for local at-risk youth and inner-city youth from around the US, including Atlanta, Boston and Dallas. They are actively seeking sponsors and donors in hopes of bringing a group of Seattle-area teens (YCG-Seattle) to Yellowstone on an annual basis to participate in the Yellowstone Leadership Challenge.
Students often write testimonials to Leach and other mentors to express how YCG has changed their lives. “The changes we witness during each program are profound,” exclaims Leach. “We work with a lot of under-served and at-risk students, and we recently received a phone call from a father after our Yellowstone Leadership Challenge who expressed his gratitude for our program by saying, ‘I don’t know what it was about this recent program, but for the first time in years, I have my boy back. He came home so enthused and inspired. Instead of sitting at the dining room table during dinner with nothing to say, he went on and on about this experience. I want to thank you for giving me my boy back.’”
This video shows one participant’s adrenaline-fueled reaction after hooking a giant fish:
In the off-season, Michael Leach takes to the road to spread the gospel of Yellowstone Country Guardians; and as a motivational speaker, he also shares his inspiring message with teens and college students aspiring to uncover meaning in their lives. Leach was able to overcome and adapt to his own learning disabilities and physical injuries as a young adult and find a new purpose. “Be Audacious: Inspiring Your Legacy” inspires and provides teens and young adults with simple but powerful tools that can help them overcome adversity, and ultimately, “live a life that matters.”
Leach also concentrates on fundraising for the upcoming year. “The YCG Road Tour encourages community participation in hopes of creating stewards of the wild valleys, rivers, and mountains, along with their two-legged, four-legged, finned and winged community members,” he says. After a very successful Fall/2011 Road Tour to the Seattle area, they are planning on making this an annual event. Their spring road tour will include presentations throughout Montana, a February trip to Virginia and an April journey to the Bay Area.
“Our big 2012/2013 fundraising effort is Stand Up For Yellowstone, one man’s vision for a bold and epic adventure intended to bring awareness to the longest free-flowing river in the lower 48 states by paddling the length of the Yellowstone River on a stand up paddle board,” Leach says. “This exciting river awareness and fundraising campaign will support Yellowstone Country Guardians and help provide scholarships for our two flagship programs, the ‘River Guardian Fly Fishing School’ and ‘Yellowstone Leadership Challenge’ which afford under-served teens the opportunity to uncover their potential as environmental leaders.”
“We are in year five as an organization and we have created a strong foundation, but we are very much in a capacity building phase right now. We have a strong board of directors and a dedicated cadre of volunteers, but the most impactful support someone could currently provide is financially-by making a tax-deductible donation to support our programs and operations. Simply spreading the word about our important work is another huge way people can support YCG.”
There are many ways to support this organization. Please visit the YCG Website to see how you can make a difference.
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