“Never tell a young person that anything cannot be done. God may have been waiting centuries for someone ignorant enough of the impossible to do that very thing,” said the poet John Holmes.

For sure, don’t tell 16–year–old volunteer Jessica Flory.

She’s been calling attention to the growing problem of marine debris by wearing a dress she made from 87 balloons that Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge staff collected from a coastal island where turtles mistake the mylar scraps for food and choke on them.

Yes, she’s been getting stares. But she believes that wearing the dress in the right places will get people to understand that their birthday balloons just don’t disappear into the sky—that their actions have consequences.

Let’s not just hail Jessica. Let’s imbue a million youngsters with the same understanding and get–it–done spirit.


I have three suggestions:

Make a personal connection. Invite the kids up the street or the second grade teacher you know to experience a wildlife refuge. Follow up with a conversation about what they want to get out of their encounter with the natural world. And how the Refuge System might fulfill their personal or organizational goals. The first step is extending a personal invitation.

Talk their language: Young people use Facebook and Twitter. Are we using these media as well and as often as we might? Are we using language that resonates with the audiences we want to reach? Do we insist on using messages that we like rather than listening to the messages our target audiences value?

Go places where we usually don’t travel. If we want to introduce the world of conservation to people who don’t usually connect with the outdoors, then we have to travel their road. Reach out to organizations outside of your typical sphere. For example, sororities and fraternities are major civic organizations among African Americans during and even after they graduate college. Is there a chapter in your community, and do they know you? Perhaps you partner with Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Do you know the Big Brother or Big Sister organization in your community?

There are scores of Jessicas—motivated, intelligent young people—in your community. Introduce more of them to your local wildlife refuge.