Caroline Choi is an example of a Post-Millennial on fire. After seeing the film Racing Extinction when she was in seventh grade, Caroline found her passion: working to save the environment in any way possible. Between working with high school friends and as a committee member for Community Action for a Sustainable Alameda or CASA, she uses her free time for projects like leading beach cleanups, drawdown workshops, organizing climate marches, hosting documentary screenings, and working with city-level zero-waste campaigns. She has also partnered with local elementary and middle schools for Clean our Bay Trail, a coastline path that shares San Francisco Bay waters with a bird estuary. A can-do young woman, Caroline is a pusher, organizer and visionary, with her ultimate goal preserving the planet, one bit at a time.
What inspires you to volunteer?
Imagine my devastation when I learned that cows were gassing our Earth into oblivion! Now imagine me walking out of the movie theatre, nearly in tears because not only were cows wreaking havoc on our earth, but sharks were being massacred for their dorsal fins, trees were being ripped out from the gritty Amazon soil, and our GHG emissions were causing one of the largest mass die-offs of coral in history. I left the screening of Racing Extinction with a resolution to change things. That was seventh grade, the same year I cut out the methane-producing beef from my diet and the same year I proclaimed myself an environmental activist.
That’s all to say that my inspiration to volunteer stems from my strengthened connection with the Earth. It’s provided us a home, beautiful landscapes, and resources for this long and it’s time for us to help preserve it. The IPCC and the UN released a widely-read report that stated that we only have 11 years left to reverse the climate crisis. If that’s not enough incentive to act, I don’t know what is!
Describe your volunteer role.
I have a rather multi-faceted volunteer role. I’ve sort of become my island’s go-to youth environmental activist. Mainly I work on zero-waste and city outreach. As president of our school’s environmental club, called Amplify, I lead students in volunteering. Additionally, throughout this year, my club has also partnered with local middle and elementary schools to clean our Bay Trail, a quiet coastline path that shares San Francisco Bay waters with our island’s bird estuary. By hosting monthly beach cleanups, we’ve involved a circulating group of more than 30 students and community members dedicated to ridding the coast of debris. As of April 2019, we’ve cleared away exactly 99.35 kg of trash!
When I’m not picking up trash, I serve as a committee member of Community Action for a Sustainable Alameda or CASA, a 501(c)(3) that doubles as our city’s environmental commission. As part of CASA, I work on pushing for sustainability legislation. This year, in particular, I founded an offshoot of CASA called CASA Youth. Serving as a coalition of students, we advise local officials and draft out our city’s Climate Action and Resiliency Plan (to be implemented in 2020).
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
One of my greatest achievements this year was persuading our city council to pass the Climate Emergency Declaration unanimously. This is big because that means our city can be held to our sustainability goals.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
If anything, I’ve learned that our small community of students can be a real force of change in Alameda, California, and the country.
Are there any future partnerships, programs, or events that you are excited about?
I’m super excited about the traction that an organization we work with called Extinction Rebellion is gaining. CASA Youth has partnered with them in the past for nonviolent protests and I look forward to what we’ll do together in the future!
Also, I’ve been working on a reusables campaign called “Straws of Steel”, where we’ve been selling and incentivizing reusable straws and containers. I’m excited that we’ll be expanding to other cities in the Bay Area. We’re partnering with Rethink Disposable on this project and they’re awesome.
Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?
It sounds so cheesy, but there is absolutely strength in numbers. We need people to have people power.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
Volunteering isn’t always as glamorous as it seems. Sure, sometimes you’ll be delivering eloquent speeches in front of enthusiastic crowds, but most of the time you’ll be mucking out in weeds or picking up random pieces of trash from the coastline. Don’t doubt yourself. If you’re always worrying and fussing over the minute details of volunteering or activism, you’ll never get anything done. Learn to be flexible, to work around obstacles, to be creative!
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Caroline? Find local volunteer opportunities.