WILD youth in the Danny Woo Community Garden. • Photo courtesy of InterIm CDA

When InterIm CDA’s WILD youth program monitored the air quality in several apartment buildings in the neighborhood, they noticed something wrong: the rating was very poor.

Inside the WILD youth program office on 601 South King Street, air quality measured fine. But several living complexes in the area struggled to reach a desirable air quality rating. The youth group had to devise how to improve this situation.

Their solution was to modify box fans by attaching filters to them. At WILD, teamwork and collaboration like this is emphasized. The program, which stands for Wilderness Inner-City Leadership Development, is one of the various services that InterIm CDA provides as part of its mission of “advancing social justice and equity for low income, Asian And Pacific Islander, immigrant, and refugee communities,” in Seattle and the Puget Sound area.

Founded in 1997, WILD teaches teenagers leadership skills through a lens of environmental justice and equity. Over the course of two decades, the program has been responsible for engaging over 1,000 youth, predominantly Asian and Pacific Islander youth from low-income, immigrant and refugee families, in developing their skills in community activism, advocacy and environmental justice.

Throughout the years, WILD continues to connect members to the environment in active and interesting ways. The group works with various organizations, like the Washington Trails Association and the U.S. Forest Service, to do activities like trail work, phenology monitoring and ethnobotany. Additionally, they work in the Danny Woo Community Garden, planting vegetables and working side by side with elders in the community. This Spring WILD youth participated in a collaborative design and fence building project with non-English speaking elder gardeners providing essential interpretation, design ideas and youthful energy to build several new fences in the garden. In addition to the new fences for elder gardeners, WILD worked to build and plant much needed new raised garden beds in the garden for the community.

One of the most exciting parts of the program are the camping trips. “There’s always at least one youth who hasn’t been tent camping, and there’s usually someone who’s never been away from their parents before,” said program coordinator Andrea Say. “It’s really exciting to empower them and give them the confidence.”

Many of the youth often return again the next year, while some move on to work for the program itself.

When asked about what it was like being a part of the WILD program, summer assistant Aiyu Chen said, “I feel like I wouldn’t have known the outdoors if I didn’t participate in WILD.” The group definitely gets to learn about the outdoors extensively. The WILD Youth Field Team, plans an entire camping trip, from choosing a site and a hike to menu planning, entrusting students to connect to the environment beyond Seattle on their own terms.

Another powerful impact of the program is how it connects youth to children from the Chinese Information and Service Center and El Centro de la Raza. The group act as mentors to the children, who delight in having someone to look up to for their summer activities. Danny Woo Community Garden Manager Lizzy Baskerville says that one of the most memorable parts of the experience is seeing how the youth group steps up to be leaders and teachers.

As a leadership development program, WILD prepares youth for the many challenges to come in the near future. Having just celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, WILD will continue to foster a sense of engagement, service, environmental awareness, and community spirit among generations to come.

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