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City Launches Youth Climate Ambassador Program

Release Date: 2022-06-29

Written by: Sharlene Mae Quirante and Samantha Vong 

On Wednesday, March 30, the City of Long Beach began its first Youth Climate Ambassador Program, inviting youth from all over the city, especially from disadvantaged communities, to participate. 

The Youth Climate Ambassador program, or YOU CAP, is a 10-week paid internship with both remote and in-person opportunities. Long Beach youth ages 16 to 24 had the opportunity to learn about Long Beach’s first Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (CAAP) and partake in different climate projects. CAAP’s vision is to “to create a more sustainable, resilient and equitable city by addressing climate change in a way that remedies existing environmental health disparities while also improving health, quality of life, and enhancing economic vitality throughout Long Beach.” This is the first year the City has implemented YOU CAP and is looking to continue it in the future. 

The program combines environmental knowledge, community engagement, and equity–skills that are becoming increasingly relevant for making change and finding justice in environmental issues. The future depends on dedicated and inspired young people like the YOU CAP Ambassadors to lead the next generation in combating climate change. 

Ambassadors gathered for the first time at Willow Springs Park, a California native habitat restoration area and public park located near Signal Hill. The program is strongly based around the park, considering its rich history and blossoming native ecosystem. Here, Ambassadors learned about the Indigenous history of Long Beach and Southern California, as well as the progress of Willow Springs from a water source to an oil field and finally to a thriving restoration area and community gathering place. It was crucial that the Ambassadors learned this history in the beginning of the program to provide context for the work they would do. Program leaders also led the Ambassadors on a guided tour through the park, taught them about native flora and fauna, and emphasized the environmental factors that play a role in restoring the park. 

Ambassadors were placed into three different impact project groups. These specialized projects allowed the Ambassadors to apply their knowledge of climate issues and solutions in the real world. The three groups, led by Long Beach Climate Fellows and City staff, included: Willow Springs Restoration, Urban Greening, and Digital Media.  

The Willow Springs Park Restoration group, led by Climate Fellows Brandon Pundamiera and Vanessa Covington, aimed at maintaining, protecting, and activating this valuable public open space. Ambassadors in this group focused on hosting events and workshops for the community. Tatiana, one of the Ambassadors, learned the process of removing invasive plant species and using compost as fertilizer. “I’ve also learned a lot about our communities and how there are more issues regarding social justice within environmentalism than I initially thought,” she shared. The group also focused on social equity to support the needs of all people who visit the park. For their final project, they hosted a free educational workshop at Willow Springs where they taught community members how to identify California native plants and harmful invasive species, and provided information on drought-tolerant native plants that can be planted in home gardens. 

The Urban Greening group, led by Climate Fellow Lian Mae Tualla, focused on planting fruit trees and parkway trees in disadvantaged communities in Long Beach, specifically around Cambodia Town and Cabrillo High School. One of the Ambassadors in this group, Lauren, states they planted “pomegranates, figs, apples, dwarf peach, and avocado,” adding, “We offer this service completely free to residents.” Disadvantaged communities are burdened by pollution and tree-planting helps improve air quality and extreme heat, ultimately improving health. Lauren adds, “The premise of the program is to make a direct positive impact on underserved communities like food deserts and areas of Long Beach that don’t have enough urban forest canopy.” Ambassadors also learned how to engage the community through outreach and canvassing. Some went door to door in priority neighborhoods to promote the tree planting program and help residents sign up for this free resource.  

The Digital Media group, led by City staff Veronica Allen, focused on engaging the public on climate change through social media and digital design. Ambassadors in this group focused on interacting with community members and educating people on sustainability through social media content. The final products of the Digital Media group included: writing a news article for the Long Beach Sustainability website, creating a newsletter blurb for the quarterly Long Beach newsletter, and designing a brochure for the future YOU CAP program. The group also worked on the CAAP Dashboard with Lian Mae Tualla. The Dashboard is a website that aims to host information and resources on the City’s goal of carbon neutrality as well as provide ways to get involved within the Long Beach community. Ambassadors focused on understanding the content of the website, gathering feedback from diverse groups of people, and improving the website based on the needs of the people through user testing and stakeholder interviews. One Digital Media ambassador, Sharlene, felt like it was a great way to “experience behind-the-scenes actions of how to build user-friendly tools for people.”  

Throughout the program, Ambassadors also had the opportunity to meet with various climate action leaders in the community. These climate action leaders included City employees, nonprofit organization staff members, and youth volunteers. They shared their educational and professional backgrounds, as well as their personal experience with climate change and adaptation. These inspiring leaders talked about their upbringing and the ways they give back to their communities, which resonated with the Ambassadors and helped inspire them to follow their passion in climate action. 

On June 1, the YOU CAP ambassadors completed their impact projects and graduated from the program. They will take their knowledge with them and incorporate it into future endeavors. Lian Mae Tualla, a Long Beach Climate Fellow and the lead facilitator of YOU CAP, says “I hope that they continue climate action and environmental justice work after the program, and in turn help foster the next generation of climate leaders.”  

Special thanks to our very first YOU CAP ambassadors, congratulations on completing the program:

Urban Greening 

Willow Springs Restoration 

Digital Media 

Emma Huynh 

Callaghan Montgomery 

Jaime Medina 

Joana Peji 

Diana Michaelson 

Samantha Vong 

Lauren Rios Tolano 

Marelia Grady 

Sharlene Mae Quirante 

Victoria Kaing 

Tatiana Roque