Berwyn’s youth is thinking “green”

Ask Berwyn’s eighth-grade students what they would do if they were mayor for a day, and you might be surprised by their answer. The majority of students in the running for the Best of Berwyn Program answered that they would push for recycling in their city.

And that is why the youth is keeping recycling in Berwyn alive, according to Joe Vallez.

Vallez, director of North Berwyn’s Park District also heads the Think Green Campaign. That program was created to increase proper recycling practices all throughout Berwyn.

“Think Green,” now in its fourth year, has a strong presence in Berwyn. The park district sends about 21,000 booklets to Berwyn homes, with detailed instructions both in English and Spanish, on how to recycle. The program also runs volunteer projects such as community clean-ups. The biggest clean-up events take place on Earth Day, which last year had a turnout of more than 400 volunteers, Vallez said.

According to Vallez, the bulk of these volunteers included teens and younger children.

“These days, kids are educating adults on how to recycle. Keeping the younger generation involved in our program is so important, because these kids have grown up with the idea that recycling is necessary for the community,” Vallez said.

This is where the Best of Berwyn comes into play. According to Vallez, this program, which honors the top eighth graders from all of Berwyn, is strongly tied to the “Think Green” campaign. Honored students volunteer with the program and promote it to others. The Best of Berwyn program is a running for 8th grade kids who are nominated by officials from the city, police and schools. They then go through two or three rounds of interviews with a panel of judges. Vallez said that the North Berwyn Park District helps fund the annual program, which completed its eighth round this past May.

Think Green’s involvement with the Best of Berwyn program, which honors students that are involved in volunteering and giving back to the community, is a natural fit.

Rafael Avila, 7th Ward Alderman of Berwyn, said that Berwyn’s schools are incorporating “green” concepts into their curriculum for this same reason. Berwyn children are enacting the ideas learned at school, back at home with their families, Avila said. This is why the “Think Green” program sends flyers on how to recycle to grammar and middle schools each year.

“Our kids clearly understand the importance of this program. They realize that recycling has to be a part of our daily lives,” Avila said.

Another way that students get  involved is by participating in the Think Green summer job program. Vallez said that this past summer’s program hired students to help turn an empty parking lot into and urban garden, by planting trees and other foliage.

According to Vallez, the ‘Think Green” banner and bright green t-shirts can be seen at most Berwyn events. The campaign sets up booths at events where volunteers hand out free bright green t-shirts, free seeds for planting trees and other vegetation and pamphlets containing recycling information. Volunteers also wear the t-shirts, which are a visible bright green, on clean-up days.

Jose Curvo, a Berwyn resident and self-proclaimed “recycling freak,” is an active “Think Green” volunteer. Curvo said that on community clean-up days, his family puts on their bright-green “Think Green” t-shirts and helps to clean the neighborhood. Curvo says he tries to teach his seven and 10-year-old daughters the importance of conservation and recycling every day.

“We take a lot of things for granted, that we shouldn’t. In order to have a green future, we need to educate kids. Parents need to teach them the value of conservation, such as not wasting energy, water and food,” Curvo said.

As for Berwyn students, many are getting involved by joining eco-clubs at school. Rick Ruel, sponsor of the Ecology Club at Morton West High School, said that this year, student members at Morton West are focusing on community clean-ups and reducing the use of plastic bags. The club is planning a Des Plaines River Clean-up day on Nov. 20,  where at least 15 members will go to the river to clean up  garbage and debris, there as a result of littering.

Avila says that all of Berwyn is getting involved in reducing its carbon footprint, by taking part in the BDC’s Green Tote Program, which encourages buying reusable totes for groceries, and the Buy Berwyn campaign, which promotes shopping locally. Avila said that Berwyn’s younger generation is encouraging the rest of Berwyn to follow a “green” lifestyle.

“I believe that our kids are much more aware nowadays of the importance of recycling and they are the catalyst to urging adults to get involved,” Avila said.

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