By Deb Groebner, YES! coordinator for southern Minnesota

Water pollution…invasive species…soil loss…disappearing pollinators…plastic waste…flooding…climate change…it’s no secret that southern Minnesota is wrestling with complex environmental issues that threaten community sustainability and livability. Who has the energy, vision, and creativity to tackle such daunting challenges? Kids!

YES! (Youth Eco Solutions) is a statewide, hands-on learning program for students in grades 7 -12. Guided by an adult coach, participants identify environmental issues in their community and then work together on solutions through action projects. Three teams are active in Region 9; their projects are both inspiring and impactful. For example:

  • Mankato West YES! students replaced 1,333 energy-hungry fluorescent tubes with 15-watt LED lighting in the school’s common areas, saving the school $5,125 annually and reducing the amount of carbon emitted from energy produced to power the lights by an estimated 44.82 tons of CO2 per year.
  • Sleepy Eye YES! students collected data on water quality in a county drainage ditch and the Cottonwood River and submitted it to the MN Pollution Control Agency. The team established native prairie plants at three sites to protect soil and create natural habitat enjoyed by pollinators, birds and people.
  • Springfield YES! students reduced landfill waste by collecting and recycling more than 5,350 pounds of old holiday lights over the past ten years. They reduced plastic waste by installing a hydration station at school and persuading students and staff to use reusable water bottles.

As part of a YES! team, students learn how to collaborate with other people to achieve goals. They learn about careers and gain skills and self-confidence for lifelong success. By seeking solutions for locally-important ecological challenges, YES! students build resilient and thriving rural communities.

Help youth lead your community to a sustainable future! Talk to school administrators, teachers, or students in grades 7-12 about forming a YES! team for 2021-22. Support a team by volunteering for a project, offering expertise, hosting a tour, or raising funds to offset the team fee. Make a tax-deductible donation to help YES! provide teams with educational workshops, project seed funds, prize awards, and other support. To learn more, visit or contact southern region YES! coordinator Deb Groebner at (612) 716-8438 or

YES! is a program of Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center in partnership with Ney Nature Center. Major support for YES! is provided by the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF), LYFT Career Pathways, and Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs).

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