2017 Change the World Kids. Front row: Issy Hiller, Ava Dodson, Claudia Mills, Luscian Meyers, Claire Coates, Maddy Trimpi, Louis Mills, Anna Steele, Morgan Willis
Back row: Owen Spann, Oliver Wilson, Sidney Pilot, Lili Sorrentino, Eliza Dodson, Ethan Mello, Kyle Wereither, Charles Greene, Pieter Bohen
By Michelle Fountain, Standard Correspondent
After 20 years facilitating Change the World Kids (CTWK), the teen service organization her daughters started, Phyllis Arata-Meyers is retiring. Pieter Bohen, former executive director of the Farm and Wilderness Foundation and parent to both a current and former Change the World Kids himself, will take over the reins.
The organization began when then eight-year old twins Phebe and Nika Meyers noticed there were fewer songbirds at their bird feeders and wanted to know why. From there, they, along with many friends, began to make a difference globally (in Monteverde, Costa Rica where they have preserved and reforested a migratory corridor for the Threewattled Bellbird) and locally (doing work for those in need from stacking wood to sheetrocking, raking leaves and much more) growing from a small volunteer group to an organization which often has 30 teens at each meeting and an annual budget of $120,000.
“Change the World Kids celebrates and strengthens the values of self-reliance, community mindedness, social responsibility, hard work ethic, stewardship of the environment, and a spirit of life-long learning. Members are empowered by learning skills, strategies, and values that affect their current and future well-being. I have become a better person by working with the Change the World Kids. People ask how I feel about this. I say that my heart is full of love for the whole thing. I love this story,” Arata-Meyers says.
The organization, which now has hundreds of alums, started small. “I will always remember the first job that we did as eight year olds building a deer fence out of natural materials. Being a Change the World Kid taught me so much about the power of community, working together, and standing up for what you believe in. I am humbled by the work of this organization and am so excited to see what the future will bring.” Phebe Meyers, CTWK Cofounder and Alum, Naturalist Field School Manager, at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, says.
Her sister and co-founder Nika Meyers agrees. “It takes time to fully understand what an organization is capable of and, wow, I am amazed at the CTWKs power and capability. Members turn dreams into reality, hope into progress, doubt into trust, uncertainty into confidence, and people into life long friends. I am beyond honored to be called a CTWK alum.”
CTWK is different from other teen service groups in that it has always been run by the kids.
“They decided that having a friendly adult involved was important to take the daily phone calls and help them. They did not want an Executive Director who was in control. The CTWK Facilitator became an official role. When the founders of CTWK graduated high school and moved out into the world, I stayed with CTWK, eventually leaving another job that I enjoyed, and accepting the position – now very full-time. My life has many joys, and I have made many decisions of which I am happy or proud, but this decision was one of the best in my life,” Arata-Meyers says.
Knowing the challenge of replacing the facilitator who has been with the organization since the beginning, the kids took their time.
“Being a part of the search committee for the next Change the World Kids facilitator was a wonderful and eye opening experience. For me, the most exciting part of the search was receiving resumes from all across the U.S.. It showed me that I was part of something much bigger than little Woodstock, VT. My search committee teams mates consisted of Change the World Kids, Change the World Kids Alums, and a few CTWK Trustees. We all worked together to make the process as smooth and professional as possible,” current CTWK member Owen Spann says of the search process, noting that the decision to select Bohen was unanimous.
In addition to his experience at Farm and Wilderness, Bohen has served as Vice President of Stewardship at Forterra, a regional land trust based in Seattle; as co-founder of the Green Seattle Partnership and Green Cities programs; and as founding Program Director of EarthCorps, an international Conservation Corps.
“After 25 years in various roles as a non-profit leader, I am looking forward to fostering the leadership of the CTWK participants, as a Facilitator under the direction of the Kids,” Bohen says noting the food justice work, community service work, and reforestation work in Costa Rica will continue.
“ When I ponder my kids’ experience of growing up in Woodstock, the highlight has been learning nonprofit leadership at CTWK. Many nights around our dinner table, my kids and their CTWK friends have held forth about sometimes very difficult jobs… Given the challenges that this generation will face, with a rapidly changing climate and a world population that may very soon reach 10+ billion people – I can’t think of a better way to create leaders who have the skills and capacity to create a sustainable and just future,” Bohen says.
Although the organization will continue, Arata-Meyers will be missed.
“I hope that Phyllis recognizes that the impact that she has had on each member of the group is significant. I am very thankful for all that she has done for the group, and for me…one of the most important things I took away from being part of the Change the World Kids was the belief that a strong community really changes the world. Moreover, being a member of that community instilled in me a feeling that I must change the world,” Jordan Fields, a CTWK alum, says.
The legacy of the Arata-Meyers family is the Change the World Kids members and alums who continue to make a difference, one volunteer effort at a time.
“Change the World Kids has been an amazing experience for me. I am looking forward to continued experiences and possibilities,” Madeline Hiller, current CTWK participant leader says.
This article first appeared in the December 14, 2017 edition of the Vermont Standard.