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Project Green Challenge Plants Seeds

Raychel Santo is a sophomore double-major in Public Health Studies and Global Environmental Change & Sustainability at Johns Hopkins University (JHU). Originally from Dayton, Ohio, her passion for everything “green” began with her discovery of the sustainable food movement in her last few years of high school.

Last fall Raychel participated in the Teens Turning Green Project Green Challenge and was selected as one of the 12 finalists to attend Green University. Here she shares the story of her experience.

I can still remember last fall when I casually stumbled upon Erin Schrode's Teens Turning Green blog post here on The Whole Story blog. In it she encouraged high school and college-aged students to sign up for the first-ever Project Green Challenge.

As I perused the Project Green Challenge website and learned more about this exciting initiative, I figured it would be a fun activity to brighten up the month of October, typically a month of school overload. Little did I know what I was signing myself up for, or how much that decision would change my life forever.

Everything that the Project Green Challenge participants accomplished during that month remains a truly unbelievable feat.

From personal challenges of going 100% disposable-free or auditing all of our household cleaning products' harmful ingredients, to challenges mobilizing us to reach out to fellow students, family, community members, school administrators, government officials and more, Project Green Challenge created a force of young individuals, consumers and citizens who can now effectively advocate for the health of our planet and its inhabitants!

Among my own experiences that month, one of my proudest accomplishments was the emergence of our new community garden at Hopkins. This will be a space for Johns Hopkins students, faculty, staff and community members (especially local school children) to learn, teach and practice environmentally responsible food production methods. We got this project rolling in October with volunteer days, community meetings and more.

Thanks to the generous grant provided by Whole Kids Foundation®, we can confidently bring this garden to life for the spring 2012 planting season! The ultimate testimony to the power of Project Green Challenge took place over a December weekend in San Francisco at Green University.

This summit brought the 12 finalists from Project Green Challenge together to meet some of the world's most esteemed eco-business leaders and experts, including Susie Hewson, founder of Natracare, and Debbie Raphael, Director of the California Department of Toxic Substance Control. With the wisdom and expertise imparted to us during their inspirational speeches, and with the help of additional mentors in attendance, all of the finalists worked together to create exciting platforms for change that we’ll carry out over the year!

My experience with Project Green Challenge and Green University will, without a doubt, stand as a defining moment in my life for years to come. It has not only expanded my knowledge of nearly every major environmental issue and introduced me to some of the world's most inspirational individuals working to combat these issues, but it has also empowered me to act on these issues in creative and effective ways.

Ultimately, Project Green Challenge has shown me that simply being a 19-year-old student in a world of 7 billion people is NOT a limiting factor to promoting effective change on our campuses, in our communities and in our world! Anyone can find the time and energy to make a difference if you're up to the challenge!

Thank you to Judi Shils and Erin Schrode, the amazing mother-daughter partnership who created Teens Turning Green seven years ago; the entire Project Green Challenge team; Natracare, Whole Foods Market and the other amazing Project Green Challenge sponsors; and all of the eco-leaders and mentors for supporting and creating the change they wish to see in the world!