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February 8, 2023

Wetlands Watch’s youth climate institute receives state funding

WATSONVILLE—Watsonville Wetlands Watch’s (WWW) Climate Corps Leadership Institute recently scored a $300,000 Youth Community Access grant from the California Natural Resources Agency.

Climate Corps Leadership Institute (CCLI), formed in 2020, grew out of WWW’s Green Careers Institute. It works to increase youth access to the outdoors, provide career and technical training and develop local environmental and climate change solutions in Monterey Bay.

The institute is a blend of distance learning and in-person activities, with students participating in training programs, projects and, eventually, a paid internship. Participants help plant and care for trees, maintain nature trails, restore wetlands and other habitats, and even work at WWW’s native plant nursery.

“It’s become a competitive program,” said WWW’s education programs director Martha Arciniega. “A lot of students in this community tend to have jobs, so the internship piece has been really successful in recruiting them. But also, with us … they are getting climate change and environmental literacy. Which they don’t usually get in class. There’s also a big action component to the program … And a lot of these students are just ready to take action.”

Youth Community Access is a grant program funded by Proposition 64, the initiative approved by California voters in 2016 that legalized cannabis. According to the Natural Resources Agency, the program aims to expand access to natural and cultural resources for youth in underserved communities.

In its inaugural year, Youth Community Access is funding 65 projects statewide that bring youth into parks, nature, cultural and historic landmarks through education, job training, outreach and small asset projects.

CCLI was granted seed money from Community Foundation Santa Cruz County, the Packard Foundation and other groups in 2020. But the more recent investment will help WWW expand the program into a two-year intensive internship, reaching more students at more schools throughout the region. The first round of grants will provide funding for at least 60 new students to participate.

“They’ll be developing their own climate action projects, taking everything they’ve learned and asking, ‘What can I do in my community to address local and global climate change issues?’” said WWW Executive Director Jonathan Pilch. “This will help them with public speaking, with confidence … inspiring them to develop their own leadership capabilities.”

Pilch said he was excited to see what kind of projects the students will come up with during their time at CCLI.

“There’s a lot of excitement around letting them develop those projects, and coming up with new, innovative solutions that we as staff members haven’t thought of yet,” he said.

Students will also be placed in environmental internships with local organizations, government agencies and businesses to gain additional job skills and training.

“With these new funds, we want to grow our partnerships with other community groups,” Arciniega said. “We also want to offer more enrichment programs, more camping and day trips … We want to bring in more speakers who will talk to them about careers. We will be able to add more staff, increasing participation all around.”

Arciniega said that she hopes that student involvement and action with CCLI will have a “ripple effect” on the community.

“These students are the future, they’re the ones who live here, have grown up here,” she said, “and it’s up to them to take the next step in helping their community. And they’re definitely ready to do that.”

To learn more about CCLI visit For information about the Youth Community Access program visit

Johanna Miller
Reporter Johanna Miller grew up in Watsonville, attending local public schools and Cabrillo College before transferring to Pacific University Oregon to study Literature. She covers arts and culture, business, nonprofits and agriculture.


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