New Leaders Initiative

Announcing the 2011 BYA Winners!

Earth Island Reports

Each year Earth Island Institute’s New Leaders Initiative recognizes six young activists ages 13 to 22 from North America for their exceptional efforts to promote ecological sustainability and social justice. This year we’re thrilled to honor a dynamic duo of changemakers, bringing our total number of honorees to seven! The 2011 winners are:

photo of a young man working outdoors

Victor Davila, 17
Bronx, New York

Making environmental education fun and engaging for young folks is Victor Davila’s passion. Which is why he set up EcoRyders, a series of summer workshops that combine environmental and health education with skateboarding. Workshop participants build their own skateboards and learn about pressing environmental issues in their community. EcoRyders offers a way to tackle both high obesity rates among local youth as well as lack of public transportation in the area.

photo of some young men leaning over a garden plot

Alexander Epstein, 20
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Inspired by a community service trip to post-Katrina New Orleans, Alex Epstein co-founded New York 2 New Orleans Coalition, a network of New York City high school students mobilizing around the parallel struggles of New Orleans and their own communities. When he moved to Philadelphia for college, Epstein helped co-found The Philadelphia Urban Creators – a group of young community organizers trying to build relationships with Philadelphia communities to help them develop sustainably, and equitably, from the ground up.

photo of a young woman in an urban garden

Tania Pulido, 21
Richmond, California

In a city plagued by high crime and industrial pollution, Tania Pulido runs a community garden that’s more than just a place to grow food. The Berryland garden in the Iron Triangle neighborhood of Richmond, California, is also a space where local youth can take summer apprenticeships and learn about issues like climate change and environmental racism. Pulido is deeply involved in issues impacting the health of her community, including a campaign against the local Chevron oil refinery.

photo of a young man with a surfboard on a bike

Kyle Thiermann, 21
Santa Cruz, California

Kyle Thiermann isn’t all about surfing – though the sport is a huge part of his life and his inspiration. His five-part video series, called Surfing for Change, urges people to make small adjustments in their lives to help save the environment. The videos have produced big results: Thousands of viewers have transferred $340 million worth of lending power from coal-funding banks to local community banks.

photo of two young women smiling

Rhiannon Tomtishen & Madison Vorva, 15
Ann Arbor, Michigan

A desire to earn a Girl Scouts award led Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva to create Project ORANG (Orangutans Really Appreciate and Need Girls Scouts) in 2007. Then they discovered that Girl Scouts Cookies contain palm oil, and that palm oil plantations are one of the leading causes of orangutan habitat destruction. So Tomtishen and Vorva started a campaign to get the Girl Scouts to replace palm oil with a more eco-friendly oil instead. They generated 70,000 emails to the Girl Scouts headquarters calling for a new recipe.

photo of a young man in front of a mural

Junior Walk, 21
Whitesville, West Virginia

Junior Walk lives in coal-dependent West Virginia, where criticizing the coal industry can be grounds for ostracism. But Junior, who was mentored by the late anti-strip-mining activist Judy Bonds, continues to challenge Big Coal’s power in Appalachia. He was a keynote speaker at the 2011 PowerShift conference in Washington, DC, and travels across the nation educating people about the long-term environmental, health, and community degradation caused by coal mining.

Save the Date

Join us for the Twelfth Annual Brower Youth Awards October 18 at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco. To reserve your free seat in the theatre or to purchase a ticket for the VIP
reception where you can meet the winners, please visit

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