Laurel isn't one to sit on the sidelines. Determined and compassionate, her current path of activism is rooted in a long history of fighting to make the world a better place. From a young age she became involved in organizations that instilled this awareness, one of them being the Jane Goodall Institute. Being that they recently joined Boomcast as one of our new channels, we thought it would be a great opportunity to introduce you to someone whose history with the organization goes back more than a decade, and still continues today! Laurel began her journey in Jane Goodall’s Roots&Shoots program that provides youth with a way to get involved in projects to benefit people, animals, and the environment. Read more about how these beginnings helped to shape Laurel into the amazing person she is today.
Q: How did you first get involved in service, and more specifically R&S
A: I started working with Roots&Shoots in the 3rd grade when my friend’s mother started a group at a local middle school and allowed us to join early. Prior to my work with Roots&Shoots, I had no experience with service, only with the animals and nature found in my backyard.
Q: What was your journey with Roots&Shoots like?
A: My earliest work with Roots&Shoots was a group aimed at working with older kids. Upon entering middle school, I began participating in the group’s weekly meetings and quickly decided to become a youth leader of our club. This gave me the opportunity to become even more involved in the planning stages of service projects. When I entered high school, two very important things happened simultaneously. I joined the California Youth Leadership Council, and I co-founded a Roots&Shoots group at my former elementary school. Working on this council, along with the National Youth Leader and College councils I eventually served on, allowed me to work with a wide variety of young people, all of whom had their own passions and drive. Starting a local Roots&Shoots group with my friend allowed us to work with students at the same age we had been when we were introduced to Roots&Shoots. By way of this group, we were able to provide for students the opportunities that were given to us.
Q: The journey you described beings us up to about the time you entered college. How did your work with Roots&Shoots continue in college, and how did you horizons expand?
A: I continued to work with Roots&Shoots by way of the college council for the first two years of college. Ultimately, I took a step back from the group for my junior and senior years of college to explore other interests I had never fully turned my attention to. Most of my energy was put into a campus group focused on ending sexual assault. I had been a member of the group, which was founded as a student led, joint committee aimed at rewriting the school’s sexual assault policy, for a year. As a junior I became chair of the committee and for the next two years we focused our efforts towards a grassroots movement educating the school population on policy and bystander awareness. I started my work with this group after my advisor was asked to recommend a “stubborn and outspoken student” and threw my name into the mix! Before starting my work with this group, I was unaware of how needed it was on campus. It did not become a passion of mine until my schoolmates recognized me as a student who could offer them help and support. I only truly realized how important the group was once I was regularly approached by students and even staff members who did not know how to gain access to the school’s resources for survivors of sexual assault to help themselves or their friends. The questions people asked me often became the group’s next awareness campaign.
Q: What has life after college been like? What is next for you?
A: Upon graduating from college, I knew very little about what I wanted to do next. Every sure-fired plan I’d ever had no longer seemed realistic. I still hoped to work with a non-profit organization and preferably one with international relationships, but I was apprehensive of the efficacy of such ties. It quickly became clear to me that The Jane Goodall Institute would be the perfect place to work. Not only because I had a pre-existing relationship with the company and several of its employees, but also because of the strong code of ethics under which the organization operates. Despite being an international organization, JGI is based on a grassroots approach to community problem solving. I felt confident that I would be comfortable, both personally and morally, joining the JGI team.
There was no single cause that made me want to work on environmental and humanitarian issues. I have been drawn to nature and animals for as long as I can remember, so working in the field seemed to be an obvious choice. What drew me to the Jane Goodall Institute and ultimately kept me there was the specific and rare respect shown towards young people. As a child I was very aware that I was not often taken seriously because of my age. Roots&Shoots was a place where my questions and ideas were given thoughtful consideration. My curiosities were never shut down, and my frustrations were not delegitimized. It was because of this that I was able to explore my passions and, later, help other young people explore their own.
Q: What has been the hardest part of your journey?
A: The most difficult part has been what one of my favorite professors called “moving the ocean with a teaspoon”. Fatigue seems an inherent and cyclical part of activism and its difficulty lies in its reoccurrence. To feel, at times, exhausted and even defeated is unavoidable when working in the fields of environmental and social justice. However, the good news is after learning how to overcome this struggle the first time, you can always move past it. I am often overwhelmed by the bulk of the large-scale problems our world faces today; attempting to change those issues can feel impossible or even pointless. Instead, I focus on the individuals. Those who have inspired me, those I have inspired, and those I may work with in the future.
Q: What has been the most rewarding part of your hard work over the years?
A: It is no surprise that the most rewarding part of my work is what I use to combat the most difficult. The impact you make in a field like this is not always easy to quantify, so for me it is most rewarding to meet and work with people as passionate as I am. The ability to work with people who are likeminded in their end goals, yet may have very different ways of attaining them gives me an important and unique learning experience. It is even more rewarding when I am able to use my previous experience to teach others. Recognizing that the work I have done can be used to help others fulfill their own projects has been the best tool by which I can measure my impact. The Jane Goodall Institute, more specifically the Roots&Shoots program, has a longstanding tradition of empowering youth, as it did for me. It is incredibly fulfilling that now, as an adult, I am able to help continue cause.
The most that I hope for in the future is the ability to continue working in a field I care about with people who care about it as much as I do.
To find out more about how you can get involved with The Jane Goodall Institute or the Roots&Shoots program, click here!