Judi Shils, the founder of Teens Turning Green, has worked for more than 10 years for environmental organizations. After starting Search for the Cause to investigate environmental links to the high instances of cancer in Marin County, she expanded her work to engage youth activists with Teens for Safe Cosmetics, which evolved into Teens Turning Green. This month, Teens Turning Green launched the Project Green Challenge for students to take actions to protect and preserve the planet.
What would surprise us about your work?
The magic of seeing really engaged youth take action. I think we hear a lot about how the youth in our country are apathetic and not stepping up — but, on the contrary, we are seeing that they are engaged. I’m seeing it especially through this [Project Green] challenge. Their commitment to the earth and working on a sustainable planet is amazing. Seeing them take responsibility is truly astonishing. There’s nothing this generation can’t do and our job as adults has to be to inspire, mobilize, and empower them.
Who is your hero?
My hero is my daughter [Erin Schrode]. I have the gift of getting to work with her every day on the Project Green Challenge. I would not be able to do what I do without our partnership. I’m astonished at what she is able to do — and how she puts the message out in a global context. Then there are so many people I look up to for the work they do, people running small green businesses and nonprofits.
What has been your greatest success so far?
Youth projects. Everything I’ve been working on since 2002 — to scale opportunity for kids and to be able to work with them and give them a backbone. The opportunity with Project Green Challenge allows us to build bridges with over 500 schools and work with kids in environmental clubs who are committed to make changes. This has provided an opportunity to find arms and legs on campuses across the country and to help mobilize collectively, to build social action platforms and to support the kids in making a difference. That’s the inspiration and the feedback we’re getting says we’re doing something right.
What is your greatest failure or challenge?
I have not failed at anything — everything we do, we learn from. But I live through vision and I need a genie in a bottle to bring the funds in we need to help make this happen. A challenge would be my inability to stay focused on raising funds and having time to do that! But if we have an event and only one person comes, it doesn’t matter — then the message gets out to that one person.
If you could make one global and green change, what would it be?
It would be to take away all the injustices and level the playing field, to make things right for communities around the world where people have no voices. And for all of us to collaborate on healing our world together.