The Earth Month Youth Forum, presented by Earth Day Canada’s EcoMentors program and the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), promises to be brimming with opportunities. According to program manager Jon-Erik Lappano, it will be an “epic win.” “Participants of the Earth Month Youth Forum should walk away with the necessary tools, relationships, and knowledge to begin collaborating for environmental change around issues they are most passionate about,” says Lappano. “But most importantly, they are going to have a ton of fun and meet awesome people while doing good work for the planet!”

Other highlights include keynote presentations by Roberta Bondar and Sebastião Salgado. Since being the first Canadian woman in space, Bondar has since focused on photography and environmental education. She has authored four essay books that celebrate the beauty of our planet. Salgado is an award-winning social documentary photographer and photojournalist who created Instituto Terra, an ENGO dedicated to a mission of reforestation, conservation and education. Salgado’s upcoming exhibition, Genesis, will be on display at the ROM from May 4th to September 2nd.

The forum will be hosted by Simon Jackson, founder of the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition, the largest youth-run environmental organization in the world, which “showcases the importance of the youth voice and how powerful it can be when it’s united as one behind a cause,” explains Jackson. Since the age of 13, Jackson has been working on protecting the 200-400 remaining white Kermode bear in Canada and has been recognized as a Hero for the Planet by Time Magazine.

From his experience, youth want to make a difference, but are bombarded with a wide range of issues, largely due to social media, and they don’t know where to start or what issue relates to them the most. Jackson’s advice is to “find your passion, and when you do, follow it.” He also recommends seeking out two-way generational learning opportunities and developing a connection with your environmental hero. “They want to give back and mentor,” he maintains. Jackson reached out to his hero Jane Goodall as a teen and he now sits on the board of directors of the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada.

Jackson believes the forum will be a great opportunity to share experiences and hear stories of success or failure and learn from one another. “It’s an opportunity to take people out of their own silos and give them a peer support group, where they can troubleshoot ideas and hopefully lean on one another going forward,” he explained. Jackson furthered that mobilizing youth is especially important because they’re the future environmental stewards. He stays hopeful because “youth are more aware and there is more desire for change.”

Attendees will also participate in two of 12 interactive environmental workshops facilitated by local environmental groups. Participants canexplore how to shrink their fashion footprint with Fashion Takes Action or learn hands-on techniques for studying all kinds of birds from Bird Studies Canada. There are also two workshops geared towards educators, which examine the Jane Goodall Institute’s holistic approach to the conservation of chimpanzees and Learning for a Sustainable Future’s student action planning model.

The ultimate value of the Youth Forum is the conversations that will be started and hopefully maintained. As Lappano put it, “it’s really about engaging in conversation with the world around us, discovering how we fit into the bigger picture, and deciding to take action to protect our relationship with it.” If you’re interested in “creating hope and change,” this is an event you definitely don’t want to miss.

The forum is on Saturday April 27th (registration closes Monday April 22nd). Tickets are $20 for youth participants and $25 for educators and environmental professionals. View the poster. Register now!

Stay posted for A\J live-tweets (#EcoROM) and a follow-up blog.

Julie is an urban planning graduate student at the University of Waterloo, focusing on sustainable transportation.

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