Kaily Heitz is an alumnus of Pitzer College where she earned a degree focused on the intersections between sociology and environmentalism. During her undergraduate career, she worked as an environmental educator for 6th graders and developed an organization for mixed race students at the Claremont Colleges. She currently lives in Oakland with her partner where she works as a tutor and project manager, serves on the board for a non-profit, Mixed Roots Stories, and rock climbs regularly.
I was first introduced to ACE in 2009 when the both of us were just beginning to emerge as leaders in climate education; ACE had just begun presenting at high schools across the country and I, then a senior in high school, had become co-chair for Francis W. Parker’s environmental club in Chicago. I’d long been invested in environmental issues, but it wasn’t until the ACE assembly that I was able to help my peers connect to issues of climate change in a meaningful way. Rather than presenting the usual doom-and-gloom information about global warming that tended to alienate students, Michael LaFemina and the ACE team challenged and inspired us to think about tangible solutions and strategies with which we might begin to tackle climate change through Action Teams and the “Do One Thing” (DOT) campaign.
My path crossed with ACE once again when Leah Qusba visited the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum’s TEENS program in which I was participating for a “Kicking the Bottle Habit” talk during one of our training programs. This focus on eliminating plastic water bottle waste combined with my continued discussions with Michael about beginning a DOT campaign at Parker inspired a number of memorable and empowering actions on campus. By the end of the school year, my team and I had begun discussions with the school’s administration to remove plastic water bottles from the cafeteria and successfully created a school-wide DOT “Lights Out!” campaign; every Friday, teachers were instructed to turn off their lights for an entire school day in an effort to raise awareness about saving energy. As a bonus, we saved the school hundreds of dollars over the course of just a few months.
By the time I graduated, I felt significantly more confident in my ability to become a climate educator and leader. ACE had provided me with resources as well as guides who helped me to create the change I had hoped to see in my school’s community. After this experience, I knew that I wanted to pursue Environmental Studies and I zeroed in on Pitzer College in California for their exceptional program in this field. I received a scholarship from ACE to support my studies and off I went, halfway around the country, to continue my journey as a leader in environmental studies.
It’s been 6 years since I became initially entangled with ACE and our paths are crossing yet again. Upon graduating college in 2014 with a BA in Environmental Analysis, I moved to the Bay Area and began working as a curriculum designer and project manager for the environmental justice organization, Earth House Center. Currently, we are working on developing a curriculum that connects disadvantaged youth of color’s stories to climate change to inspire a new generation of educators and leaders. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to collaborate with the mentors at ACE who have supported me in this journey to create new pathways for young people to claim their power within the climate justice movement. What’s more, I encourage you to contribute in your own way to continuing ACE’s mission to empower young people like myself to make a noticeable different in our environment for generations to come.