Empowering Young Leaders through Sierra Club’s Summer Program

The Sierra Club’s Summer Program (Sprog) is an intensive one-week leadership training program that teaches tools for environmental and social justice activism to young people across the country. Sprog is run by and for young people, teaching the knowledge and skills and sharing tools needed to become a leader and make a substantial difference in the future of one’s community and planet. It serves to connect a supportive regional network of youth activists who fight similar battles and share similar passions. Participants have described it as one of the most inspiring and fulfilling weeks of their life. This is a reflection by one of this year’s Midwest Sprog participants, who first interacted with Sierra Club through the Chicago Inspiring Connections Outdoors program. Find out more about Sprog here.


I am Luis Ramirez, currently a sophomore studying Environmental Studies and Anthropology in Albion College. This summer, I participated in, personally, one of the most promising student organizations of the Sierra Club. The Sierra Student Coalition is an organization whose mission is to inspire and train young leaders of tomorrow and those of today to take the initiative of advocating and campaigning in their own communities or organizations in which they could be a key factor of change or take a leadership position. Throughout the week, the summer program (Sprog) taught me of the importance of building an inclusive and anti-oppressive organization or campaign.

One of my favorite moments in Sprog happened during discussion; being able to challenge ideas was probably one of the best learning opportunities since most of the participants do not come from the same community. As for me, coming from Chicago, I could relate to others either because they were from Chicago or because they were raised in the same cultural/racial community as me. I applied to both the West Sprog and the Midwest Sprog. After talking to other participants, I figured that every Sprog offered different perspectives, both in environmental and leadership practices or approaches to our different communities pertaining to modern day issues in our environment or communities. As members of our colleges, high schools, or communities, we would create a safe environment of acceptance and respect. But like every community, some ideas were not as popular and the exclusion between various participants was obvious. In the scenarios of disagreement, the trainers were mostly more than prepared to reach out and facilitate the discussions.

The week consisted of 101 training in organization, leadership building, and campaigning; the trainings then became more advanced throughout the week. I had the privilege of being sponsored by the Illinois Chapter of Sierra Club, and my peers were sponsored by their state chapters or city youth environmental organizations. Thanks to the trainers around the nation, the Sierra Student Coalition put a stand in Washington D.C. to advocate for both the future of the program and the trainers. In Midwest Sprog, two training and discussion based topics were more common throughout the week: Environmental Issues and Oppression in our nation. Because participants were from various social economic status, cultures, religions, race, and gender many took the initiative to lead discussions and training alongside with trainers; this was probably one of my favorite and most educative scenarios of the program.

I would have not heard of this opportunity if it had not being for Inspiring Connections Outdoors- Chicago (ICO) staff who reached out to me about the opportunity. Alongside other students from Chicago, sponsorship and support was one of the key factors of attending the program. I am thankful that many more young adults have the resources necessary to attend programs and be guided throughout their environmental or advocacy lifestyle thanks to organizations like ICO who provide learning and service opportunities in their communities. Because of my time in Sprog, I am ready to be involved in future training opportunities with the Sierra Student Coalition or future staff positions within the Sierra Club or other environmental organizations.