Minnetonka club provides students with community environmental conservation opportunities.
When a Minnetonka High School (MHS) student realized her passions for nature and giving back, she decided to connect her school with the community through the creation of the Minnetonka Natural Resources Club.
Sarah Johnsen, a 2023 MHS graduate, participated in bluebird data collection and buckthorn removal events organized by the City of Minnetonka during the summer of 2022. Inspired by the work, she helped create a club that aims to provide students with an opportunity to learn more about the significance of sustainability and the environment.
There are more than 60 students involved in the club’s group meet chats. “We wanted more students to have ways to connect with our community and volunteer opportunities,” Johnsen says of club she co-created. “We wanted to keep that relationship with the city going.”
And going it has. Students have worked collaboratively with city volunteer groups, acting as the city’s first youth stewards, says Christine Petersen, natural resources engagement coordinator for the City of Minnetonka.
“They’ve just done a broad bank of things,” she says. “They’re very impressive, motivated young people.”
A project both Johnsen and Petersen highlighted as a favorite was educating Minnetonka fifth-grade students about conservation practices related to pet waste removal. “We helped students draw pet waste signs that will be hung up in area parks,” Johnsen says. “It was fun to interact with them and get them excited about how this helps the environment.”
Petersen explains that while elementary students receive stormwater education, having club members help with the campaign was fulfilling for everyone involved. “Club members worked in small groups about how to do the messaging about picking up pet waste,” she says. “It was a lot of fun to see the club members’ leadership ability and poise.”
Creating the club gave Johnsen a greater perspective on leadership and inspired her to become involved at the University of Vermont, where she’ll study environmental science. “… what we do with this club is hard work, but I feel we really make a difference,” she says. “This kind of work is a lot of fun, too.”
MHS’s Savanna Larson was poised to take the reins of club leadership during the 2023–24 school year and already has a lot of ideas. She discusses the desire to turn gray space (sidewalks and other concrete areas) into green space, which includes gardens and pollinator-friendly areas.
“That project is more ambitious but something we want to do,” Savanna says. “I’m passionate about conservation. I love interacting with other age groups and sharing admiration for nature through different generations.”
Petersen says she looks forward to a continued relationship with club members. “I’m really impressed by these young people taking that opportunity and doing meaning-making in their own lives,” she says. “We all can make a difference in our community. Hopefully, these students will be able to inspire the next group of young people to continue these conservation efforts.”
Minnetonka Natural Resources Club members were also involved in Tree-Plenish, an effort to educate community members about the importance of native trees. Students hosted a table at a local farmers market to see trees to homeowners for their yards, and more than 300 trees were distributed.