What if kids were put in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency? “If only,” says Girls Inc. of Sarasota County.
This month the youth-serving organization activated the largest private canopy of solar panels in Sarasota County. Their facilities now operate fully on renewable energy, and the switch will save the organization more than $20,000 in utility expenses each year.
Just like the Girls Inc. motto—Strong, Smart, Bold—so was the scope of the project. The new array includes 564 solar panels and will produce on average 300,000 kilowatt hours of energy per year. The project was conceptualized and funded by a $575,000 investment from Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation.
With the added bonus of cultivating the next generation of environmental conservationists, curriculum was designed around sustainability and STEM concepts for members to capitalize on the installation. Armed with what they learned through the process, and their imagination, girls led their own charge in greening their facilities. They even elected their first energy council made up of members to guide the organization’s sustainable practices.
“It’s our future, and we’re not waiting around for grownups to get it together,” says Sloan, an 11-year-old member of Girls Inc. and current president of the Sustainability and Energy Council.
Similar sentiments line the Girls Inc. walls on environmental awareness posters, one reading “If you don’t clean up trash, the earth won’t feel good.” The organization began a new recycling program, planted a sustainable garden, and plans to host its first “RecycleBall” dance party for the girls.
“The goal was to simultaneously create a pseudo-endowment for the organization, while fostering the next generation of environmentalists,” says Teri A Hansen, President | CEO of Barancik Foundation. “The energy savings will be able to be reinvested into programs, but the real value are the lessons and practices these young women will carry throughout their lives and careers.”
While technology costs go down, many organizations are making the most out of operating in our Sunshine State by switching to solar. As more nonprofits look to implement the technology, the Solar Powered by Barancik Foundation pilot will serve as a model to expand impact, guide best practices, and provide learning opportunities to avoid missteps.
The new equipment comes at a critical juncture for Girls Inc., as the organization embarks on an exciting period of growth. The solar installation and curriculum outcomes were so notable, Girl Inc.’s national affiliate has shown interest in replicating the project at other locations across the country. For the girls, a new generation of environmentalists will challenge the status quo.
“Right now, a bunch of girls hold the record for the largest solar project in the whole city. But in this case, we want others to break our record. Businesses can do better. Bring it on!” says Sloan.