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Dream Big! Ensuring the Next Generation of Conservation Leaders Know How to Follow Their Hearts

Stacie Gilmore is the co-founder and executive director of Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK) which provides pathways to science and natural resource careers for urban youth, youth of color, and other young people with limited access to these opportunities. Under Stacie’s direction as the Executive Director for the last 18 years, ELK has transformed the lives of thousands of youth through science education, stewardship projects and outdoor experiences.

Stacie Gilmore

Stacie Gilmore is being honored as a Next Generation of Conservation Leaders Champion of Change.

I am humbled and honored to be selected as a Champion of Change for Engaging the Next Generation of Conservation Leaders. In 1996, I co-founded the nonprofit Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK) with the desire to educate Colorado’s underserved youth about the state’s natural resources and to empower them to pursue a science, conservation, or natural resources career. Through ELK, I work to inspire youth to have high expectations of themselves by exposing them to the outdoors and engaging them in service learning projects. Science and environmental education is embedded in all ELK’s programs and activities to further students’ understanding and attitudes toward science, the outdoors, their communities, college, and careers. I work to transform the lives of youth by endowing them with increased academic skills, civic and community leadership, environmental stewardship, and employment opportunities.

As we celebrate Environmental Learning for Kids’ 18th anniversary, I’m reminded to “Dream Big!”. To me, "Dreaming Big" means having a grand vision, optimism, and the belief that everything works out for the best.

When my husband Scott and I dreamed up ELK 18 years ago, we did it for children who didn’t have the opportunities to experience the outdoors at an early age or to explore careers in science and natural resources. We dreamed that through leadership and community environmental stewardship, youth and their families would develop strong ties to their neighborhoods. Dreaming is just the beginning. Then the hard work begins, and it never really ends. ELK is working towards acquiring 5.5 acres in our community; Montbello in Denver, CO, our neighborhood is adjacent to a former Superfund site, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. Directing Natural Resource Damage Funds in support of this effort is an opportunity to take a step toward rectifying the environmental injustice that continues to reverberate today.  

What really defines success for ELK? My definition of success for the past 18 years has simply been, “How has ELK impacted a child’s life?” Every action I take is a means to this end. Our children and their families are the most valued part of ELK’s success. ELK is about people; embracing individual talents and strengths, working together for a common goal, and sharing the hard work.

I continue to dream big and am grateful to have had the opportunity to surround myself with individuals who encourage me to make my dreams a reality. As ELK continues to grow, I look forward to our future challenges and successes. ELK belongs to the community and our youth  their commitment to our mission is what inspires me to continue working diligently to support their dreams. Everyone has the right to “Dream Big!”

Through ELK and our programs we are able to educate kids about how to make decisions and to listen to their inner voice about what is right or wrong for them. We encourage them to think for themselves, tell them that we trust them, and ensure that they will make good decisions in life. In the past three years, ELK kids have become more involved in advocating for full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, through rafting down Browns Canyon in Colorado to visiting our Colorado delegation in DC. This involvement empowers them to share their voice, stories, and experiences to become the next generation of conservation leaders our country deserves.   

Stacie Gilmore is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK), a Colorado based nonprofit whose mission for the past 18 years has been to cultivate a passion for science, leadership, and service within a diverse community of learners.