I.D.E.A.S. recognized by Obama administration
Published: Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, July 20, 2011 17:07
From their weekly bike rallies to raise awareness about carbon emissions, to their efforts to save UCF's arboretum, Intellectual Decisions on Environmental Awareness Solutions has been making efforts to get noticed. Recently, those efforts paid off when the Obama administration named the group Champions of Change.
I.D.E.A.S. was founded in June of 2008 by UCF students Hank Harding III and Chris Castro, and since then the group has been gaining recognition around the nation.
"People are becoming aware of what we're doing, and that obviously has a direct connection to what we do," said Sebastian Church, co-president of I.D.E.A.S. and senior English literature major. "I think it's more in the fact that we're turning heads and people are starting to pay more attention, which is what I.D.E.A.S. is; it's about environmental awareness solutions."
I.D.E.A.S., along with six other environmentalist groups from around the country, was recognized by the Obama administration after posting their work with the Orlando community on DoSomething.org.
"We're walking the walk and talking the talk, and it is really showing in terms of all of this recognition we are getting," UCF alumnus Harding said.
Champions of Change is a subsidiary group in the White House that honors students and young adults in the local community for the efforts to not only improve their area with service projects, but also to raise awareness about environmental issues. According to Harding, he and co-founder Castro had no clue that I.D.E.A.S. had been named Champions of Change until they held a video conference with Kal Penn, the director of the White House's Office of Public Engagement.
"They were pretty vague in the email, but basically they wanted a group of students who were involved in the project to be on a conference call with a White House representative," Harding said.
Penn, who is also famous for his acting roles in such films as Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, asked the students who were named Champions of Change a series of questions about their beliefs and what they hope their organization can accomplish.
Harding said the age range of students who were also recognized impressed him. So much so, that he may have stepped on Penn's toes by stealing his closing remarks.
"Kal Penn asked if there were any closing remarks, and I actually took Kal Penn's thunder," Harding said. "I was like, ‘Yeah, I wanted to say that I really admire the fact that all of you young kids are getting involved. I didn't get involved in the environmental movement until I was a junior in college. You're middle school level, high school level, and you're just as impassioned as we are.'"
Harding added that after he finished his closing statements, Penn said that Harding had said exactly what he wanted to say, they all had a good laugh, and then the video conference ended.
It wasn't just one project that got I.D.E.A.S. on the White House radar, but a series of ongoing projects submitted to DoSomething.org. These projects included, among other things, their beach and lake cleanups, building a livable shack out of recycled materials for UCF's Shack-a-Thon and their efforts to save UCF's Arboretum.
"We had a ‘Save the Arboretum' day," Harding said. "We just basically showed our support of the local arboretum at UCF's campus and brought awareness about how they were trying to build upon this arboretum land, which is basically where the environmental movement at UCF started."
According to Harding, 2011 has been a year to remember for I.D.E.A.S.; the group was named best activist group by Orlando Weekly, was named Conservation Organization of the Year by the Florida Wildlife Federation and has now received the title Champions of Change.
"We've been doing I.D.E.A.S. since June of 2008," Harding said. "To brand ourselves and to let the White House see us was like passing our farthest line in terms of getting people to recognize our efforts, and we are all very proud of it."
Still, despite all of the recognition, the most important thing to members of I.D.E.A.S. is still to raise awareness about environmental issues.
"Regardless of the issues that we are focusing on, we are getting people involved," said Samantha Ruiz, co-president of I.D.E.A.S. and senior legal studies major. "We are raising awareness and we are making people start to be a little more conscious about the efforts that they can take to make the world a better place."