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    Thursday, June 13, 2024

    Youth take charge at Earth Day Expo in Groton

    From left to right, members of the Stonington High School Environmental Club -- Samantha Harris, 16, Pema Kennedy, 15, and Fernanda Alva,17 -- talk to young girls at their Pollinator Protection, How to Help booth during the Earth Day Expo on Saturday, April 20, 2024, at Groton Public Library. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Area high school and college students with State Representatives Christine Conley and Andre Bumgardner discuss climate-related measures in the House that have passed or they are hoping will pass this year during the Earth Day Expo Saturday, April 20, 2024, at Groton Public Library. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Area high school and college students listen while State Representative Christine Conley discusses climate-related measures in the House that have passed or may pass this year during the Earth Day Expo Saturday, April 20, 2024, at Groton Public Library. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Volunteer David Klein helps Riley Dougherty, 7, of Montville build a Connecticut DEEP Blue Bird Box on Saturday, April 20, 2024, during the Earth Day Expo at Groton Public Library. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    From third from left, Fitch High School Environmental Club members Isabel Gustavson, 16, Cece Zimbelmann, 17, and Beatrix Lamanque,17, help Sophia Rhor, 7, after she made her hand print with paint Saturday at their Climate Change and Flooding booth during the Earth Day Expo at Groton Public Library on Saturday, April 20, 2024,. The hand print symbolizes how everyone has an impact on climate change. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Groton — More than 1,200 attendees arrived at Groton Public Library for the second annual Earth Day Expo on Saturday afternoon.

    The theme — planets vs. plastics — sought to promote greater sustainable living.

    Enthusiastic residents of all ages participated in the day’s activities. Kids constructed bird houses as lively music filled the space.

    But this year, students took charge of the event. Throughout the library, students from the University of Connecticut and Connecticut College, alongside middle and high schools were part of panels focusing on climate change and solutions from a policy perspective.

    Panelists included several state representatives, including Aundré Bumgardner, D-Groton, and Christine Conley, D-Groton, as well as community climate leaders and officials.

    In one panel, students voiced their concerns about how climate change is not being addressed enough in their communities.

    “It feels like we’re being lied to,” one student said, discussing their school’s failure to adopt recycling.

    State representatives urged students to attend city council meetings and make their concerns heard by their peers, residents and policymakers.

    “It's policy that's really going to make a difference,” said Hazel Allik, 20, a sophomore at UConn Avery Point. “This is an opportunity to get your voice heard and talk to the people who are making the bills to make changes.”

    Students also made presentations on environmental topics. Stonington High School environmental club students Samatha Harris, 16, Pema Kennedy, 15, and Fernanda Alva, 17, hosted a station that educated kids and adults alike about pollinators and their importance to the ecosystem.

    “By being here teaching people and being involved in the community, I feel like we're making a big impact,” Alva said.

    Jason Hine, owner of The Ditty Bag, a zero-waste shop in Mystic and the lead organizer of the event said he believes that addressing climate change doesn’t have to be negative. Instead, an interactive space dedicated to education and understanding goes further.

    “Something like this is really important because it makes it feel fun. It makes it feel inviting. It makes it feel neighborly and communal,” Hine said.

    More than 60 vendors in attendance sold products that promoted sustainability. Drew Burnett of Drew’s Honeybees presented glass cubes of honeybees to teach students about the importance of caring for bees.

    Additionally, SoulFully Vegan taught people about vegan food, and David Standridge, executive chef at Shipwright’s Daughter in Mystic discussed achieving more sustainable eating practices with attendees.

    With public radio station WSHU providing a soundproof booth to record people anxious about climate change, Hine understands the fears many have of the impact of climate changes.

    However, he remains hopeful.

    “I'm greatly concerned about my future,” he said. “(But) I'm going to ignore my worries and instead choose to be optimistic.”

    t.wright@theday.com

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