High school student wins award for environmentalism

Every year, the Bay Nature institute honors people who are making outstanding contributions to the understanding and stewardship of the natural world. One of this year’s awardees is Sean Fitzhoward. She’s a 16-year-old junior at San Francisco’s Lowell High School who founded the Protect the Bay Club. KALW’s Ben Trefny sat down with Sean Fitzhoward, and asked her about what her club does for the environment.

SEAN FITZHOWARD: I basically arrange volunteer events for the club to go. I always go to all of them, and then I keep track of their hours. Recently we went out to Pier 94. The high tide brought in some trash, so we picked that up and then we also planted some native plants. So we do stuff like that, like habitat restoration. I like to do that kind of volunteer work the most, because you get to be outside and stuff.

BEN TREFNY: What are some of the fundraisers that you do? And what do you use the money for?
FITZHOWARD: Yeah, so that is definitely a big part of the club. Last year we were really determined to raise $500 for Save the Bay. So we were thinking about what’s a popular food—we kind of had to be like business people—and we thought of popcorn. And it grew, at first we just wanted a little popcorn machine to sell popcorn at these food days, and that grew into going on Craigslist and finding a big one, like you know those big popcorn machines.

TREFNY: So this isn’t one of those that has wheels on it, say like Playland at the Beach?

FITZHOWARD: Well yeah it is just like that, it’s a replica of that, this company makes them, and usually they run for a couple hundred dollars and we found one for one hundred that was like brand new. So now what we do is we go up to Four Star Video, which is on Cortland Street in Bernal Heights, and we know the people who run that place. They’re really nice, and they let us—whenever we want basically—sell popcorn outside their movie store, like on a Friday or Saturday night. We tell people what we’re doing, most people are really enthusiastic about it and they buy some popcorn, small popcorn for a dollar, a large for 3, and sometimes people even donate. It’s a lot of hard work doing that, but it paid off because we raised, just in that year, last year, like $1000 dollars, and $500 of that went to Save the Bay, so that was our big thing we did. It was really cool to hear how happy they were, and they wrote us a nice letter. We also adopt animals from World Wildlife Fund and Defenders of Wildlife, so it’s like $100 for a harbor seal and it goes to the World Wildlife Fund and we get a little harbor seal stuffed animal, which is our mascot now.

TREFNY: That’s Sean Fitzhoward. She’s a junior at San Francisco’s Lowell High School and founder of the Protect the Bay Club. How many members did you start with?

FITZHOWARD: Well basically just my friends – people I talked to about it, which would be my friends mostly. They joined and have been really dedicated members and helped me a lot ever since, so I’m really grateful to them. They’re really good friends. And my sister—one of my best friends, too—is the co-president, she helps me a lot. They were the first members, and are the best members now.

TREFNY: What’s the difference between going out and volunteering or gathering some friends to go volunteer and having a club? What have you found to be different or that you’ve learned in organizing something like that?

FITZHOWARD: Hmmm, that’s a good question. It’s definitely about the organization. So I think if I just said, “Hey guys, let’s go to this cool volunteer thing,” I doubt that many people would go. But now that it’s with this legitimate thing through school, they get hours—which I keep track of for them—and I encourage them. I have this little passport thing that I stamp every time they come and volunteer with us. I think that makes it fun, and more exciting for them. It’s also helped me, because I’m forced to go on the Internet and look for new volunteer opportunities, and I definitely wouldn’t have found as many as I did if I wasn’t under the pressure to find a new volunteer thing for us to do, something fun that I can invite them to.