Two Bay Area teens’ concerns about climate change recently led them to consider the less obvious effects of extreme weather, which resulted in dozens of homeless men, women and children getting shoes.
High schoolers Hanna Johnson and Audrey Hsu organized a shoe drive late last year as part of the Climate Leaders Fellowship, a free online forum for students interested in working together to combat the harmful effects of the Earth’s changing weather patterns in their respective communities.
The two-month collaboration was organized by student travel company Rustic Pathways, the foundation it set up to fund social and environmental projects around the world, and Stanford University’s Deliberative Democracy Lab.
“I’m super passionate about anything environment-related,” said Hsu, as the 15-year-old freshman at St. Francis High School in Mountain View ticked off a list of activities she’s organized in the name of environmental sustainability before expounding on the dangers that microplastics pose to Bay Area waterways.
She signed up for the fellowship last fall to find out what other students are doing about climate change, and ended up chatting with teens in Utah, Korea and Singapore.
Open to ages 14 to 18, Climate Leaders Fellowship has teens conceive, carry out and measure the results of their community service projects while sharing ideas with peers elsewhere in the world who are doing similar work and receiving guidance from staff members at Rustic Pathways and Stanford University in regular Zoom sessions.
Established in 2021, the fellowship had 170 high school students participate in the latest round; they logged into the remote discussions from around United States as well as from countries including Myanmar, Thailand, India, France, the Philippines and Puerto Rico.
Hsu responded when Johnson, a Deer Valley High School junior, sent a group message asking if anyone wanted to join her in brainstorming ways in which they could mitigate the effects of climate change at the grassroots level.
The pair began kicking around possibilities: How about contributing to reforestation efforts as soaring temperatures turn vast swaths of California’s timberland into fuel for wildfires?
Alternatively, they could distribute cooling towels or plastic water bottles to make homeless individuals more comfortable during the summer heat.
In the end, Johnson and Hsu decided on a variation of that theme.
“Shoes can provide not only warmth for feet when it’s cold but a barrier to the scorching hot pavement,” said Johnson, 16.
Although she regularly volunteers at Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland and has her sights set on majoring in some field of science at University of California, Berkeley, Johnson readily admits that she didn’t know much about climate change when she began the fellowship and hadn’t considered how extreme temperatures could affect homeless populations.
Once settled on an approach, she and Hsu hammered out the logistics.
Johnson set up a collection bin on campus as well as one at Antioch’s community center and a third in the dojo where she’d earned her black belt in karate.
Meanwhile, Hsu canvassed her Fremont neighborhood on foot, dropping off more than 100 fliers asking donors to place shoes by their mailbox for pickup.
And over the course of several weeks people responded: Hsu returned to find about three dozen pairs waiting for her, while Johnson says supporters brought trash bags full of footwear to the dojo.
Tennis shoes, baby’s shoes, high heels and work boots — in all, the duo collected 155 pairs.
Johnson handed her haul over to a county-run service that finds permanent housing and provides basic supplies for those living on the streets.
Hsu dropped hers off at a men’s shelter in San Jose, which in turn shared some of the donations with a women’s shelter nearby.
“It ended up working out just fine,” Johnson said. “I was very happy with what I ended up with.”
NOTE: The Climate Leaders Fellowship has a waitlist for applications for its next round of projects that run March 1-April 30. Visit https://rusticpathways.com/young-climate-leaders-fellowship/ for more information.