For more than two decades, the nonprofit Keep Islip Clean has worked with high schoolers teaching them to become better stewards of the environment through a volunteer program. But membership has dwindled to nearly half during the coronavirus pandemic and coordinators are working to revive interest in the program.
The nonprofit's junior commissioner program is “an education project designed for young adults” and runs during the academic year, organizers said. Students are nominated by their school principal or ecology club adviser.
Keep Islip Clean typically enrolls 40 students in the program, but only 22 students completed it during the 2021-2022 school year, executive director Madeline Sharrock said last week. “Our kids who are involved now are bringing it back to their schools,” she said, adding that some high schools in the town are revitalizing ecology clubs and recruiting new members.
After completing various requirements, such as planning and executing projects related to the environment and participating in a minimum of two litter cleanups, students are inducted into the program. Only five students per school district are allowed to participate. The students clean wetlands, plant trees, collect litter, and plan environmentally friendly projects. They also elect program leadership and hold monthly meetings.
Sharrock hopes that the students who complete the program can become role models for their peers by making environmentally friendly choices, helping their communities thrive and being sagacious stewards of the environment.
“It’s designed to give them the basis to realize that it takes more than one person to keep a community vibrant and alive, and it needs to be clean and kept up,” she said. “I think success for this particular program is instilling in each of these students the desire to take pride in where they live [and] take pride in spreading the message that we need to take care of our environment.”
Tiffany DiBenedetto, the nonprofit chairwoman who oversees the program, is a former junior commissioner. She credits the program for developing her passion for the environment and said the students serve as an “environmental liaison for their schools.”
Katherine Cottral, 15, a sophomore at Islip High School, joined the program in the fall. She said she was inspired by her two older siblings who also volunteered for the nonprofit. That, paired with her natural interest in the environment, has spurred her to champion environmental causes, she said.
The environment is “something worth saving and I think it’s something that deserves awareness,” Cottral said. “Student involvement helps not only promote civic duties and environmentalism at a younger age. ... It also teaches students a sense of responsibility.”
Liam Denison, 17, the president of the junior commissioner program and a Bayport-Blue Point High School junior, said he’s astonished by the amount of trash and debris he and fellow members collect. He said a small area of a local beach was recently littered with more than 200 cigarette butts.
“I think it’s great to start at an age around mine,” he said, "because you have such a long life ahead of you that if you learn to appreciate these things now and work on them for the rest of your life, [you can] make a sizable difference.”
Keep Islip Clean
Keep Islip Clean was founded in 1989 to enhance Islip Town's communities through litter cleanup, beautification, recycling and education. The nonprofit relies on the support of volunteers for cleanup and beautification projects. The junior commissioner program engages Islip youth and teaches them how to care for the environment and their communities.