The Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division, Fort Hood Recycle and Child and Youth Services hosted a FRIENDS Youth Environmental Ambassadors leadership event Sept 20. The event brought in 49 high school students from surrounding schools, including Copperas Cove High School and Killeen Independent School district's Shoemaker High School, Killeen High School, Ellison High School and Harker Heights High School.

Quarterly, Elizabeth Davenport, school liaison officer for CYS, organizes the FRIENDS initiative, known as the Fort Hood Region Initiating Educational Networks and Developing Support Systems, to connect military student leaders with the Fort Hood community and develops student-centered solutions, while providing mentorship and leadership development.

“Students can learn about how important it is to take care of the environment all day long, but in so many ways this event is more impactful because it was hands-on, giving them a chance to learn and see their impact,” said Davenport. “We want them to take these moments back to their schools, communities and Families, mentor others about the importance of being a leader and helping the environment.”

The first of three stops of the environmentally themed leadership event began at Fort Hood Recycle. Students were then split into four groups and collaborated with peers from other schools. Blue roll-off recycling containers were transformed into canvases for students to paint colorful murals. Brianna Vela, a senior at Ellison High School who has attended FRIENDS the past four years, was one of the students to break the ice within her group.

“Every year, I gain more experience and it helps with making connections not only within FRIENDS, but also outside this organization,” said Vela. “It has helped me to embrace new ideas, be open-minded and collaborate with people.”

Following the mural painting, the students explored the recycle center’s single stream operation.

Jeanine Clark, a materials sorter and classifier for Fort Hood Recycle, explained how tons of recyclable material, from cardboard to plastics, are dumped from trucks into a pit at the center. Clark guided the students as they explored the center’s automated system of conveyor belts, screens and magnets that separate the comingled recyclable materials. It quickly became clear that people throw items that are not recyclable into recycle bins and a team of sorters is responsible for pulling contaminants out.

“The experience was eye-opening and it made me incredibly excited to get more involved,” said Isabella Childers, a junior at Copperas Cove High School. “The tour really taught me a lot about properly recycling materials, that these materials have another life, and what I am recycling is actually making a difference.”

After touring the recycle center, the students loaded up on busses and made their way to the Pollinator Sanctuary. Jacky Ferrer-Perez, program manager, Adaptive and Integrative Management program, and her team of biologists along with Carla Picinich, agronomist for DPW Natural and Cultural Resources Branch, discussed the importance of native plants and the installation’s efforts to help area pollinators.

Students joined in, grabbing shovels and digging in areas surrounding the sanctuary to plant 16 plants, which included Gregg’s mistflower and a variety of trees and shrubs. Ferrer-Perez explained how these species are top choices for pollinators and will bloom at different times of the year to provide nectar resources for each season to proactively manage at-risk species like the monarch butterfly.

“We are planting the knowledge about the importance of responsible land stewardship through the use of native plants,” said Ferrer-Perez. “One of the drivers of this community is the military and maintaining our natural resources is an important part of enhancing the military mission.”

“It’s very fun to be able to see how biologists are helping the animals and pollinators in this area and how we as students can assist,” said Childers.

The final stop of the day was the Bronco Youth Center for a presentation about leadership by Command Sgt. Maj. Dave Francis from 2nd Regiment, 393rd Brigade, Support Battalion, 120th Infantry Brigade.

With a rousing “Hooah,” students cheered and stomped their feet on the gymnasium bleachers for Francis. He shared his story about being a little island boy from Antigua who made it all the way up the ranks to sergeant major in the United States Army, while earning a bachelor’s in psychology and a master’s in education administration.

Quoting from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” he said, “The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.”

His opening quote echoed with Olivia Robinson, a junior at Killeen High School.

“It applies with everything that we do life,” she said. “Along with integrity and discipline, these are not only Army values, but also life lessons and values.”

Francis discussed how leadership is about how individuals see the world, discipline and choice.

 “Your paradigm of seeing the world will determine how you will interact with the world. It is very important that your paradigm is adjusted appropriately,” he said. “Because if everything that you see is negative, I will tell you right now, the only people you will attract are people who are negative. As future leaders, no one follows someone who is constantly miserable. We call those toxic leaders.”

He further explained leadership is not about leadership, but about equality.

“As a leader, you cannot be one way with someone, because you like them, or they are your friend and be someone different to somebody else, because they are not in your circle. As a leader, everyone that you are responsible for is in your circle and is equally important,” said Francis.

Francis’ statement connected with Robinson; that inclusion is a key component to leadership.

 “Leadership is equality throughout your organization,” Robinson said. “It’s good to understand where people are coming from, especially with cultural diversity and bring different ideas to a situation to bettering it.”

Francis concluded that the choice lies within each of them to be leaders within their communities.

“Only you can choose how you want to be today,” Francis said. “Your choice that you decide to make affects how your day is going to go, affects who you were going to be able to reach, and affects how you interact with others on a regular basis.”