Getting Outside and Giving Back

My favorite place to be is outdoors, and I mean that in a purposefully vague way. Whether I’m by the beach, hiking, or canoeing through alligator-laden swamps, I’m by far the happiest and most in my element. Heck, the reason I got into the field of climate education was because of how much I love the outdoors. Naturally, one of my favorite days every year is Earth Day—the one day when the rest of the world hops the nature nerd train and comes together to make the world a better, more sustainable place. There’s really no better way to appreciate our planet than getting involved in service projects to preserve and protect it for ourselves and for generations to come.

This past Earth Day, I participated in a day of service with the Student Conservation Association (SCA), an awesome organization that engages young people in hands-on service to inspire a new generation of conservation leaders. I found out about the day of service by chance—a friend from college had posted the event on Facebook—and on a whim, we decided to sign up.

Early on Saturday, we arrived at the service site in the Tennessee Valley portion of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. I was assigned to work with a group restoring coastal oak habitat by removing invasive species such as thistle and poison hemlock. After a quick safety briefing and a short plant identification lesson, we got to work.

Tennessee Valley, Photo courtesy of flickr user Clark Weber


While I love getting outside, my favorite part of this service project was the people. My diverse group included people ranging in age from kids in elementary school to retired nurses. I ended up working alongside a girl named Jen to remove a big old thicket of thistle. As we worked, I started to learn more about Jen. She’s in 4th grade and was there with her mom and brother. Neither of us had been to the Tennessee Valley before, but we had a great time spending the day outside learning about the plants of the Bay Area. We talked about how much she loves her science classes, and I was happy to hear that she was starting to learn about climate change in school. It was clearly her favorite subject. She was also a practiced environmentalist, always recycling her cans and composting her food scraps. It was inspiring to hear about her budding love for science and her interest in the environment. In a world full of climate denial and a society slow to take action to address climate change, it is young, aspiring scientists like Jen who help restore my faith in our future.

Even though Earth Day was a few of weeks ago, I implore you to volunteer outside in your community! From cleanups to educational events, there are loads of volunteer events happening every week across the country. On Earth Day, I only expected to spend a nice day outside with my friend, but I wound up meeting a new, emerging scientist and ended the day with a renewed sense of hope for the future. So get outside and get involved in sustainability in your community. You never know who you might meet and what inspiration you’ll take away from the experience! Share your stories in the comments section below. 

Find a service event near you on

Kate Heffernan works with Minda Berbeco on teacher outreach activities. A recent graduate of the University of Florida, her undergraduate studies focused on environmental policy and education.


We can't afford to lose any time when it comes to the future of science education.

National Center for Science Education (NCSE) is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, EIN 11-2656357. NCSE is supported by individuals, foundations, and scientific societies. Review our annual audited financial statements and IRS 990 forms at GuideStar.

© Copyright 2019 National Center for Science Education. Privacy Policy and Disclaimer | Disclosures Required by State Law