Brower Youth Awards

Earth Island News

David Brower understood that although it’s important to dream, it’s even more important to act on those dreams. He dedicated his life to creating change not just through activism, but also by engaging others to emphasize the importance of his quest. Brower shrewdly employed many methods of getting his message across, from using film and photography to educate those whose opinions he sought to change, to connecting with those who had the power to legislate his visions.

The Brower Youth Awards acknowledge young individuals who best embody Brower’s ability to effect positive change. This year’s winners have demonstrated wisdom beyond their years and have shown not only their passion for making this world a better place, but their ability to inspire others to do the same.

Jessica Assaf, San Rafael, California

Jessica Assaf photo

Assaf was shocked to learn that many personal care products contain chemicals that have been linked to cancer and reproductive ailments. Working with the Safe Cosmetics Campaign, Assaf created “Operation Beauty Drop,” during which large bins where teens could dispose of toxic grooming products were displayed in public malls. As support for her program grew, so did her belief that she could institute change on a grander scale. With four of her friends, Assaf lobbied senators and the governor’s office to pass SB484, a bill that requires cosmetics manufacturers to inform the Department of Health Services if their products contain carcinogens or other toxic substances. After the successful passing of the bill on October 7, 2005, Assaf organized a summit educating teens from around the country on how to conduct their own safe cosmetic campaigns. This October, Assaf will launch a month-long, 20-city bus tour, culminating in a visit in Washington, DC with Hillary Clinton and California senator Barbara Boxer.

Ruben Vogt photo

Ruben Vogt, El Paso, Texas

Vogt believes that students are most successful when they reach beyond simply mastering academic subjects. Tired of seeing the “brain drain” in his own hometown, Vogt looked for a way to help young people implement their learned skills into action that would benefit their own communities. His vision became a reality when he founded CYnergy (Civic Youth Energy) Fellowship, an organization dedicated to educating high school students to take leadership roles in devising effective solutions to problems in their own communities. In the summer of 2005, CYnergy hosted an intensive week of leadership training to selected high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors, connecting the future leaders with university students and faculty to help discover their emerging potential. The participants received guidance on how to take their passions and create effective plans.

May Boeve photo

May Boeve, Middlebury, Vermont

A student of Middlebury College, Boeve was inspired by a January 2005 conference there, “What Works: Building the New Climate Movement.” Boeve was instrumental in putting the conference message into action. That summer, Boeve and seven other students embarked on a road trip called “The Road to Detroit,” traveling around the country in a vegetable oil- and biodiesel-fueled bus. Boeve and company spread the word that cleaner air, a stable climate, and an energy-independent future are possible. More than 11,000 people supported their Clean Car Pledge, promising to buy a US union-made, fuel-efficient vehicle as soon as it became available. These signatures were delivered to a representative from the United Auto Workers in Detroit. Two months later, Ford announced it would increase the production of hybrid vehicles tenfold each year until 2012.

Alberta Nells photo

Alberta Nells, Flagstaff, Arizona

Through Youth of the Peaks, Nells is mobilizing youth to oppose the expansion of the Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort on the San Francisco Peaks, held sacred by numerous tribes. She has organized demonstrations and marches to protect sacred sites from development, and has employed modern technology to make public her concern for traditional culture. As a way of ensuring that the ways of her ancestors are not forever lost, Nells has connected members of her own generation with their elders, using such means as painting murals, planting and habitat restoration, alcohol and drug prevention projects, tribal summits, and more. Her leadership skills have also been employed as a student at Northern Arizona University, where she is the president of the Navajo Language Club and class representative in the Native American Club.

Elissa Smith, Ottawa, Ontario

Elissa Smith photo

Smith has witnessed firsthand the impact that climate change has had on her environment: The Great Lakes don’t freeze over, fruit trees are no longer as fruitful, and maple syrup production has declined. With her academic background in atmospheric science, Smith decided to take action. By reaching out to her peers and to government officials, Smith has enacted change not only in her own country, but also in the US, China, Brazil, India, and Kenya. As a fundraiser, keynote speaker, and lobbyist, Smith has been involved with numerous organizations, such as Sierra Youth Coalition, Youth Environmental Network, United Nations Environmental Program, and the Canadian Youth Climate Change Conference. Her blog ( focuses on environmental issues and receives an average of 500 visits daily. This fall, Smith will continue her education at the University of British Columbia, where she will be studying Global Resource Systems, with a particular emphasis on climate change/development.

Karolin Evin McMullin photo

Karolin Evin McMullin, Chesterland, Ohio

McMullin has worked countless hours on behalf of the Ohio brook trout, a threatened species, and for the restoration of the original cold water habitat of the Chagrin River. Knowing that education within her community is the key to the success of her project “SOS – Save Our Stream,” McMullin has made presentations to local schools, worked with local officials to post educational signage in a local park, written a book about brook trout and distributed it to local grade schools, and held community service days involving K – 12 students in habitat restoration projects. Her work has been publicized in numerous local and national publications, and McMullin has generated support for her cause by participating in radio interviews and several film projects. Her expertise is now highly sought by other organizations seeking ways to protect waterways and marine species in their own communities.

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