A program focused on helping students take environmental actions within their own communities has expanded to Skagit County this year.

RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, based in Bellingham, has offered the Youth for the Environment and People (YEP!) program for several years to Whatcom County students.

The nonprofit teamed up with the North Cascades Institute this fall to start a cohort of Skagit students.

The program runs for nine weeks and includes two stewardship days, including a Saturday work party at the Tope Ryan Conservation Area. The 20-acre property is owned by the Skagit Land Trust and is northwest of Sedro-Woolley.

At the end of the program, each cohort of students will work together to implement their own service project.

The program’s focus this year is on projects that support carbon sinks, which take carbon out of the atmosphere.

Julie Stone, youth leadership manager for the North Cascades Institute, said the Tope Ryan Conservation Area is a good example of a future carbon sink.

Skagit Land Trust volunteers have planted more than 5,000 trees throughout the conservation area, which was former agricultural land, in the past year.

“Trees are a great carbon sink; they’re one of the largest carbon sinks we have,” Stone said.

On Saturday, participants walked through the property to check on the health of the newly planted trees.

Sasha Savoian, education specialist with RE Sources, said the goal of the YEP! program is for students to learn about what they are passionate about and use those skills to take action.

She said students also get a chance to learn about the work of local organizations, such as the Skagit Land Trust.

“I think it’s importance to connect them to their communities and provide them hope,” she said.

Burlington-Edison High School junior Hugo Avila is one of several Skagit County students in the program this fall.

“It seemed like a good opportunity to connect with other people with the same interest in climate change, and see what careers to do in the future,” he said.

He said he would like to pursue a career that will allow him to directly help communities to address climate change.

Avila said his group will decide on the service project they want to work on next week.

— Reporter Jacqueline Allison: jallison@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2145, Twitter: @Jacqueline_SVH

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