Teen Mobilizes Youth to Save the Environment

Daily Point of Light # 7721 Jan 9, 2024

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Lumina Zhang. Read her story, and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.

Lumina Zhang’s family immigrated to the United States from China. Growing up Asian American, Lumina didn’t see herself represented amongst activists, but now, as a student leader, she is proud to lead by example and train others to become leaders.

Lumina was shy as a child. She didn’t speak up and wasn’t interested in leadership. Her passion was music. As a 5th grader, Lumina auditioned for the school play and got the lead role. This was a turning point in her life. She realized she loved being on stage and enjoyed public speaking, which led to a change in attitude. In 6th grade, Lumina ran for student government, and while she wasn’t elected, she didn’t let that stop her from trying again. She was elected to student government in the following year and has been in student government since then, now serving as the elected Treasurer of the Maryland Association of Student Councils, the Maryland state-wide student government.

Lumina is also very passionate about environmental advocacy and wanted to create a space to combine environmentalism with leadership development. Aside from founding and running the environmental activism organization Eco MoCo, Lumina gives free piano lessons to elementary school students.

Lumina has inspired her 11-year-old brother to join Eco MoCo and the Montgomery County Junior Council.

What inspires you to volunteer?

I am inspired by the people I interact with. I love the small moments with people and seeing how my work positively impacts the community. I started Eco MoCo’s Elementary Committee, one of the only leadership opportunities for elementary schoolers. At our first Elementary Committee meeting, seeing young students starting to advocate for the environment was so inspiring.

Lumina poses at Eco MoCo’s Summer Kick-Off after leading her Executive Board in an icebreaker activity. /Courtesy Lumina Zhang

Tell us about your volunteer role with EcoMoCo.

I co-founded Eco MoCo in 2022, when I was 14. Eco MoCo raises awareness about environmental issues while providing valuable leadership opportunities to students. Our entire organization is made up of students. The main team, which we call the Executive Board, has 60 students. Within that there are six departments, and many departments also have committees. This kind of structure mimics that of a corporation which makes students familiar with a professional setting. In addition, we have about 40 Eco Ambassadors who help at events.

Currently, I serve as co-president. My primary roles are fundraising, outreach, event hosting, project coordinating and grant writing. This includes planning meetings, communicating with my Executive Board, collaborating with other organizations, designing initiatives and more.

We started Eco MoCo in Montgomery County, Maryland. I have since developed a National Chapters program to inspire students all over the country. Students can create Eco MoCo chapters in their own area, create their own environmental projects and work with Eco MoCo on our No More Trash campaign and sustainability presentations. We give each chapter resources and pre-made sustainability presentations that are presented to middle and elementary school students. I lead my National Leadership Team to conduct outreach, recruit chapter leads and support chapters.

The Executive Board is a part of Eco MoCo Headquarters, which focuses our impact on Montgomery County, since this is where we started. I have supported and led department projects such as an environmental education panel that featured speakers on various environmental topics, fundraisers, newsletters, environmental art contests and more. I have also trained students to be workshop facilitators for our annual Winter Workshop Series.

For Eco MoCo’s very first event in 2022, I coordinated with Montgomery Parks and led recycled art tables where students teach participants to make upcycled projects. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” goes the old saying, and people love to see the creative ways they can use trash to make something beautiful.

Part of our operations includes staff development and team building events. We celebrate the moments and the people. It makes the organization a family and fuels everyone’s passion.

Recently, a major policy project advocated for Bill 13-22 which is a bill in Montgomery County that seeks to electrify all new buildings. We collaborated with many organizations on this and helped the bill pass unanimously.

Recently, we have been developing Eco Kits. These kits include LED light bulbs, recycled pencils and other materials that inspire people in the community members to live greener lives. So far, we have created and distributed around 50 Eco Kits.
I dedicate around 60 hours each month towards the organization and have impacted over 3,000 people through Eco MoCo.

What inspired you to get started with this initiative?

I started getting passionate about the environment around age five when my class went on a field trip to a recycling center. There, I learned how a single plastic bag thrown into the recycling bin can damage the recycling equipment and create a dangerous situation for the workers. I started using the arts to convey my message of loving our planet. In middle school, I started an environmental club. The teacher, who was our club sponsor, told me I could completely lead the club and design all of the projects and meetings. This was so inspiring! Before, there had been no adult who gave me the support in planning and following through on projects. Because of this club, I learned how to lead people and create environmental projects.

Later, as part of the Montgomery County Junior Council, I gained even more experience when I led a department of middle schoolers in creating an environmental website and workshops. As I got more involved in leadership, I noticed that the opportunity I had in the environmental club was rare. Many students aren’t provided that opportunity. That’s why I founded Eco MoCo, to give them a way to help as well as a way to become not just the leaders of tomorrow, but also the leaders of today.

What are your long-term goals for EcoMoCo?

I envision Eco MoCo spreading our impact across the nation and eventually across the world. If we have hundreds and thousands of local hubs, we can make a global impact. Every community has students who can potentially lead in making change. I want to create a sustainable organization where each chapter always has resources, project ideas and support from Eco MoCo headquarters. We have created many resources and project ideas that each chapter can use. We have a living document that’s always evolving. It gives ideas on workshops topic, events, projects and policy campaigns. We incorporate ideas from each chapter, and each chapter gives us feedback through an impact report form that helps us create better resources for other chapters.

What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?

It’s rewarding to see the changes I’m making. I remember our very first event when we partnered with a local park and set up recycled art tables. Each station had a student volunteer who helped kids turn trash into art. So many students participated, and we spread environmental awareness. One parent asked if we held weekly recycled art classes. She said this was the first time she’d ever seen an environmental awareness event in the community. Environmental education is practically ignored in schools and she was happy to see this. This inspired me to reach out to other communities, especially to areas that are historically underrepresented.
Our team is absolutely amazing. They are so proud to be in Eco MoCo, so passionate about it and they support it in any way they can.

Lumina Zhang (middle, yellow shirt) holds a newly created Eco Kit filled with a LED light bulb, recycled pencil, brochure and other sustainability resources at Eco MoCo’s October Executive Board meeting. /Courtesy Vaniala Andriamalala

What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?

As treasurer of the Maryland Association of Student Councils and co-president of Eco MoCo, I developed an understanding of finance and leadership which helped me overcome some of the challenges I’ve faced.

As a young advocate, I’m up against a lot of obstacles. It’s hard to canvas businesses because of my age. Most businesses brush students off. For example, last month I was canvassing. I visited 10 businesses one day and every single person said, “I’ll get back to you later” but they never did. I have learned that perseverance and follow-up is necessary. I also learned to better communicate the value of the impact that my organizations are making and the value of being part of it. In the future, I want to start a company that supports student-led initiatives by helping them obtain funding.

Tell us about future partnerships, programs or events that you are excited about.

Currently, a main project is developing the National Chapters program. We are also in the planning stages of starting international chapters. Middle and high school students can start a chapter and learn more about the opportunity here.

We are also looking forward to creating more Eco Kits.

Our winter workshop series for elementary through high school students is coming up in January. We are currently training workshop presenters. Any student can sign up to attend a workshop here.

Why is it important for others to get involved with causes they care about?

Youth are the ones who are most affected by climate change, emissions and pollution. It’s important we start getting kids passionate about the environment now, before it’s too late.
Having the experience of volunteering and leadership in an area you’re passionate about helps you become a better person. You develop crucial skills, learn more compassion and form better connections. Overall it makes you happier. When you make someone happy through helping, that’s two people who are happier and this also has a positive ripple effect on the community.

Any advice for people who want to start volunteering?

Go for it! For me, there were a lot of challenges so I had to develop the courage to continue doing what I do. Mustering the courage is the most important step. I believe that we are our worst enemies. We talk ourselves out of action but I’ve learned through trying to find my own confidence that you need to take action. Confidence comes one step at a time.

What do you want people to learn from your story?

Your age is not a barrier to making change. Often, people don’t take you seriously, but you have a special power. If you’re young, you are the future. Speaking up about an issue shows power. Kids have a unique perspective. I believe it’s important to involve more youth, to listen to their voices and help them develop life skills like leadership that will help them in the future.

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Lumina? Find local volunteer opportunities.

Jarmila Gorman