Growing up surrounded by Colorado’s natural beauty not only inspired a love of nature in the Weeks sisters, but also a passion to protect it. As a high school student, Abbie Weeks founded Ecological Action, a school club committed to learning about and sharing sustainable environmental practices then taking action to make it happen around the globe. Now her sister Riley is EcoAction’s president.
Working with AP Environmental Science teacher and EcoAction Club Sponsor, Jeff Boyce, Riley and the club’s members build solar panel grid systems in communities in the United States and abroad. They also spearheaded an initiative to reduce plastic use in the town of Greenwood Village, Colorado. Most recently, they mobilized 100 of their classmates to urge the Greenwood City Council to uphold the protective environmental measures in the Paris Agreement.
Mindful Littles recently connected with Riley to hear about her inspiration, the club’s projects and the most rewarding part of working with EcologicalAction.
ML: What is Ecological Action’s mission?
EcoAction is a non-profit organization whose mission is to create a sustainable tomorrow by educating and empowering the student environmental activists of today.
ML: Your older sister, Abbie, founded Ecological Action when she was in high school. What inspired her to start the non-profit at such a young age? Was teacher Jeffrey Boyce a founding member as well?
Abbie was inspired to create EcoAction because, at the time, there was no environmental club at our school in any capacity. From a very young age both Abbie and I have been inspired to protect what we have learned to love so dearly from our endless camping and hiking trips as children. It was the clear next step to create an environment for others that felt the same way.
At our school, every club needs a teacher sponsor. As the AP Environmental Science teacher at Cherry Creek, and because of his dedication to supporting his students, Mr. Boyce agreed to sponsor the club.
ML: You are now the president of Ecological Action. Did Abbie pass the torch to you? Who are the people who inspire you?
Yes, Abbie did pass me the torch, but only because I asked for it! We share so many commonalities, our strongest being our passion for the environment. I knew what I was taking on, and I was ready for the challenge.
In many ways I am inspired by the natural beauty of our planet, but since becoming president, I also look to my fellow club members for inspiration. Knowing that other young people think similarly to me, and are as motivated to create positive change is something that inspires me daily.
Jeff Boyce is also a very big part of my motivation. There have been times when fighting for the environment has been an uphill battle, and days when I feel defeated or hopeless. But Mr. Boyce is always there to keep me positive and motivated, and reminds me of why I do what I do.
Being president of Ecological Action is definitely a full time job, but it’s one that I love doing. It allows me to channel skills and ideas that I don’t often get to use in a normal school day.
ML: You’ve worked on projects around the world, from Colorado to South Dakota to Uganda. How does Ecological Action choose where to focus its efforts?
Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist, wrote, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” We knew when we started this club that we wanted to, in some way, decrease carbon emissions while also educating students and empowering communities.
My sister happened upon GRID Alternatives, a non-profit organization that strives “to make renewable energy technology and job training accessible to underserved communities.” Due to her dedication, we were able to partner with them to reach our shared goals by engaging students to help install photovoltaic systems (aka solar power systems) in different communities.
ML: Where have you installed these solar power systems so far?
We have installed solar power on a total of seven buildings around the world, including single family homes, a school building, and a fish hatchery. We’ve worked in Spokane, Washington on the Spokane Tribal Native American Reservation; on the Pine Ridge Native American Reservation in South Dakota (twice) and in Nyakagezi, Uganda.
ML: How did you hear about the project in Uganda?
Our projects and continued partnership with the Nyaka Aids Orphans Project in Uganda is due to our club sponsor, Jeff Boyce’s friendship with Twesigye “Jackson” Kaguri. Jackson was born in Nyakagezi, Uganda and founded the Nyaka Aids Orphans Project for his community. We have a continued partnership with him, and plan on going this summer to install a ground mount solar system to power the school and surrounding community.
ML: What is the most challenging part of the work that you do?
Apathy. It can sometimes be very hard to enact change when most of the population believes that change isn’t necessary.
Greta Thunberg, the teenage Swedish activist who started School Strikes for Climate, said it best: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. I want you to act. I want you to act like you would in a crisis. I want you to act like your house is on fire, because it is.”
ML: What is the most rewarding part of the work that you do?
The most rewarding part of what I do is the fact that, even if it feels like nothing is being accomplished, or change doesn’t feel like it’s being enacted, every time I stand up for what I believe in, someone else gets the courage to do the same.
Also, knowing that as I type this, families’ homes are being powered by a reliable, affordable, and renewable energy source that I installed gives me hope for the future.