New environmental conservation club cleans beaches

Katharine Blackford, Reporter

When Nadia Pokrajac and Clara Wood drove to Cleveland to pick up trash on one of Lake Erie’s beaches in June, 2019, as part of one of the Project Planet club’s initiatives, they could see the impact they were making. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, Project Planet’s impact is less visible but just as important.

Project Planet’s co-presidents and founders Pokrajac and Wood, both seniors, started the club during the March of their sophomore years with a focus on providing a steady source of environment-related information and volunteer opportunities.

Although Revere has had past environmental clubs, such as Ecology club and Sea Life club, they did not last long.

“We decided that [Revere] needed to have an environment club. So we started [Project Planet],” Wood said.

Project Planet’s scope is much broader than previous environmental clubs at Revere, focusing on education and action on a broad range of different parts of the environment.

“Ecology club was just for recycling, so [Project Planet] is a little bit different, but it stemmed off of that idea,” Pokrajac said.
Despite the disappearance of older environmental clubs from Revere, Pokrajac and Wood are optimistic about Project Planet’s longevity.

“Our hope is that we can keep it going after we leave because we have poured our heart and souls into this, and we would like it to keep going,” Wood said.

As a club with a priority on in-person meetings and volunteering, Pokrajac and Wood have been careful to maintain the club while continuing to avoid large gatherings. The club has had two meetings earlier in the school year.

“It’s hard to arrange meetings because where’s the balance between reaching out to an audience and the school conditions we have now. It’s not the same. It’s harder in that respect, but in the future we’ll definitely have to be doing more zooms so that we can reach a larger audience,” Pokrajac said.

Pre-COVID, the club’s meetings were frequent. At the meetings the students presented a PowerPoint and would after do a volunteer activity relating to it. This year they structured the club differently.

“Usually we try to do a topic of some sort, like political candidates, and their stances on climate change. . . We just limit it to the presentation and discussion afterwards if there needs to be at this point because of COVID,” Pokrajac said.

The club has also had difficulties finding new volunteer opportunities, which also makes arranging meetings more difficult.

“It’s about getting the whole club together, so with COVID it’s been hard to find volunteer opportunities for everybody. That’s been another factor that’s decreased our meetings,” Pokrajac said.

The club’s subject material has also differed from previous years due to COVID-19 taking precedence.

“Last year the environment as an issue felt like a bigger deal. We’ve tried to keep it lighter than we have in the past. We’ve talked about coral reefs,” Wood said.

In previous years, the club organized a beach cleanup in Cleveland, where volunteers drove out to a beach to collect garbage.

“Even though we didn’t have a large amount of people going to the beach cleanups because it was in Cleveland, we always went to those. One of my favorite parts is that we got to reach a large audience and present them with these opportunities and go to them ourselves,” Pokrajac said.

The club decided on the lake as a volunteer opportunity for its notoriety of needing help with its abundance of garbage.

“Environmental issues sometimes [are] a little bit less important to people, especially in any landlocked state because the biggest environmental issue has to do with the ocean. When you don’t have an ocean, it’s hard to have an opportunity to help out, but we have the lake, and we have the opportunity to go up there and help because it’s notoriously disgusting,” Wood said.

The visible impact of a beach cleanup can have a different feeling than presentations and education.

“It feels really good to get out there and actually feel like you can see the difference you’re making. It’s one thing to sit and read about something. It’s a total other feeling to actually get involved and feel active in your community,” Pokrajac said.

Pokrajac and Wood have also struggled with motivation in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I understand it’s hard to find the motivation because there’s a lot of stress throughout the school day dealing with the pandemic. It’s hard to find time thinking about the environment,” Pokrajac said.

New regulations within the school to combat the pandemic have also damaged the club’s efforts.

“We used to make posters to inform people of what they could recycle in the cafeteria. That is another issue, we can’t do projects like that because there’s so many regulations about what clubs can do within the school. It’s harder to motivate people to come to club meetings when you don’t have an agenda,” Pokrajac said.

The club also has an active Instagram page where Pokrajac and Wood both post educational resources and images to the account to reach out to people remotely.

“It’s easier to reach out to people through a social media platform rather than
sending out an email. Using Instagram is a better way to attract more of a crowd, because it’s a lot easier to look through a 10-second Instagram story about something we’re interested in and something that we think is important,” Pokrajac said.

Social media is an outlet that needs no in-person interaction and can continue to educate people even while the club is not hosting meetings.

“Especially now, social media is all we got. If people want to take that to heart, that’s great. If not, the [posts] are fun to make,” Wood said.

The club provides an educational opportunity not just for students attending the meeting, but for the presenters as well.

“[Project Planet] motivates me to learn more about the subjects we talk to the club about. I think that’s my favorite part, and getting to share what I learned with the people who come,” Wood said.

While arranging meetings and volunteer events is difficult, holding people’s attention is another issue.

“Especially because we’re all in high school, we have limited opportunities. It’s hard to get yourself to wake up on a Saturday, drive yourself down to Cleveland, and start cleaning up the beach. It’s about finding a balance between how to motivate people our age to go out into our communities,” Pokrajac said.

Pokrajac and Wood believe that the issue stems beyond just a lapse in motivation,
and leads to a larger issue with attitudes towards the climate at large.

“Unfortunately, climate issues are niche. Not everyone cares and not everyone’s
interested and not everyone wants to give money,” Wood said.

Branching the divide between those who already care and attend meetings and those who do not also presents a challenge for Project Planet.

“It’s definitely challenging to go beyond the people who are already making the effort to go to the club. It’s harder to get people to care about the environment when we don’t talk about it as a big issue in school. We don’t have an Earth science class,” Pokrajac said.

In order to preserve Project Planet, Pokrajac plans to appeal to the high school need for volunteer hours.

“That’s something that we’ve talked about in the summer, trying to hold some election to get more people motivated to continue the club even if it has to do with putting it on your college applications. It’s [about] finding a way to still be motivated while using what actually motivates teenagers,” Pokrajac said.

Project Planet’s efforts have made an impact on sophomore Maddie Kavenagh, a member of Project Planet who joined this year.

“I really like learning about parts of the planet that haven’t been deeply talked about at school, and I love helping the environment. [Project Planet] has definitely inspired me to reuse more things and take better care of Earth,” Kavenagh said.

Although the club faces many challenges brought on by the pandemic, it continues to inspire new members and create an impact, even if it is less easily seen than previously.