Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Sylvia Medina of Green Kids Club Is Helping To Change Our World
An Interview With Penny Bauder
Trying to move a product forward that is obviously not moving forward. Have others help you look at what you are doing (who are independent) and give you their opinion. Sometimes you don’t want to hear this — but it would have made a difference with us. I was told early on about a book series we tried to launch which did not succeed (it may with changes) — but I was not told in an effective manner I would say.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sylvia Medina.
Sylvia Medina focuses Green Kids Club on spreading the word about environmental issues relating to people and animals through storytelling. Sylvia authors children’s books in collaboration with conservation groups such as Elephants Without Borders, Saving the Survivor, and Blood Lions. Together, they write fictional stories exploring environmental issues that the group is experiencing. After publishing a book with one of these conservation groups, Green Kids Club donates part of the proceeds to their organization. They also promote the story and issue through social media and classroom experiences (virtual or actual). Often their books are given to children worldwide to educate them about animals and the environment (through their non-profit arm — Love the Wild Foundation). Sylvia hopes that Green Kids Club’s work will make a difference in this world and its animals!
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I grew up in Flagstaff, Arizona which is just an amazingly beautiful small city in northern Arizona close to the Grand Canyon. I am of Mexican American heritage with some French, Aztec and Spanish blood. Our family was low to lower middle class when I grew up. We really did not have much, my father was a hard worker and a self-taught land surveyor. As a child I was the “boy” of our family. My father took me out in the field to land survey with him from the age of 14 years old to 17. This meant getting up at 4:30 in the morning and working with him for 10 hours a day. This — I have to say — taught me a lot about work ethic. During our days together he always shared his dreams with me of having his own business. Little did I know this would influence me incredibly. While, in Arizona, my father bought calves, chickens, turkeys, ducks and we had dogs. I grew to love animals and never wanted any of my farm pets to be eaten. Periodically I found that one of my chickens would be missing, and I would not eat that day!
My senior year we moved to New Mexico, where I continued to have my own personal animal farm. At this time, I decided I wanted to become a veterinarian, so I started college with this in mind. After a time, I was unsure as to whether I should become a veterinarian so I switched my degree to Environmental Engineering. This worked out well for I would eventually start an Engineering business which would help me make a difference in my life and in what I am trying to accomplish.
You are currently leading a social impact organization that is making a difference for our planet. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
When I graduated from college as an Environmental Engineer and moved to Southeast Idaho — close to Yellowstone and Teton National Park I realized how much I loved the wild animals that lived up in this part of the country, albeit many were endangered. I wanted to help make a difference and supported the Yellowstone Institute to help in bringing the wolves back. At that time, I also discovered the lack of grizzly bears in the area — the numbers had declined incredibly.
Back then, I was trying to figure out what I could do to make a difference. But moving to Idaho made me realize the passion I had, to bring back the wild to the wild. This is the background that eventually made me decide to start the Green Kids Club, where we focus on writing children’s books teaching them the importance of environmental stewardship through story telling. Through the Green Kids Club (GKC), we work with various environmental groups (e.g., Elephants without Borders, Blood Lions, etc.) telling a story that is important to what they are working to accomplish. I go into more detail later in the questions asked to me.
I hope the books we are writing and the groups we are collaborating will teach children and their parents the importance of maintaining wilderness lands and habitats for wild animals to continue living free. I hope that people who are responsible to the environment and its animals will get an opportunity to visit these wild lands and see the beauty they have sustained and that animals that are endangered will be protected as part of our efforts in education. Every day I am shocked as to how we and our governments and people in general, disrespect the lives of animals. It seems that we believe we can do whatever we want to our world and its animals and no consequences. Many of our governments pretend to be environmentally focused to protect our land and its animals but they don’t seem to make any more difference anywhere, including here in the United States. I love our country, but I don’t see many positive changes being made to make a difference. Examples are the hunting of wolves in the northwest where annihilation of a species we worked so hard to reintroduce is happening, mismanagement of grizzly bears, mismanagement of wild horses, killing games of coyotes and other animals — with no government support to stop all of this. But we can’t give up — as individuals maybe we can help our governments recognize what they need to do to help make a difference.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
I think my aha moment wasn’t so much with working with wild animals but with dogs and cats in our community. When I moved to Idaho, I found that the local town was euthanizing approximately 10,000 animals per year. I was very upset about this and decided to start working to try and adopt out animals and do what I could so they would not just become another statistic. I worked for several years doing this and then realized that someone had to build an animal shelter where animals could live until someone would adopt them out to their forever home. Little did I know that that person was going to be me.
During this time, I once again decided I wanted to be a veterinarian. As I was applying to Veterinarian school, I went to get a reference from a veterinarian I adored and loved. He told me, “Sylvia, don’t become a veterinarian — it will be hard to make a difference. Why don’t you start your own business and build an animal shelter?” So, I followed his advice and started my own business instead of going to school, and of course started working towards building an animal shelter. Eventually my efforts (with others who also believed in this) worked out and we raised enough money to build the Snake River Animal Shelter which is currently in operations in Idaho Falls. The presence of this shelter has reduced the number of dogs and cats being euthanized to almost nothing in our community. So, I would say this was my aha moment to a point. But the following describes it a bit more.
I started an Environmental Engineering company, by the name of North Wind. A suitable name for my passion for the northwest United States. My company grew with a lot of hard work. Our primary work scope was to do environmental restoration or cleanup of lands that were contaminated from private or government sources. The work I chose to do restored habitat and properties for people and animals to live in (including mining reclamation work). I also got married and had twins (boy and girl), and a little boy. As a mother — one day I thought about the love I had for the wilderness and animals and decided I wanted to write children’s books to teach children the importance of environmental stewardship (Green Kids Club, Inc.). During this time, I also realized that I could not continue traveling as much as I was. My company had grown to close to 500 employees, 16 offices in the US including Alaska and approximately $125M/year in revenue. I felt that I could not continue doing this, so I sold my business. After I left the company, I began working in earnest on the Green Kids Club.
Many people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
Well, starting a new business, especially one that is difficult to make profit is very difficult. Green Kids still is not in a profitable mode. But it is probably due to the fact that when I started this business I did not understand much about children’s publishing, art and storytelling. I thought because I had children and read them stories and loved animals that this would be enough to make me be successful in this business. Little did I know that building a brand is very difficult. I have learned many hard lessons and I believe I may finally be moving in the right direction. This has taken my about 7 years to learn. Had I known what I was doing at the time and what I was really trying to do — perhaps I wouldn’t have spent so much time and money going in a direction that wasn’t working. Now I feel we are moving in a true direction that will make a difference.
Also, one last thing I want to mention — is to be honest Green Kids Club is very much a passion project. I work on this because I love our planet, its animals, and children. And I want them to learn to be stewards of our environment.
Many people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
So, I would say take time to understand what you are trying to accomplish and get your arms around it — I ran with it with personal finance that I had from selling my previous business. Most people can’t do this. So, get your arms around what you are trying to accomplish. Get free consulting from people who have done this and mentoring. Going after a business sector whatever it is without understanding what you’re trying to accomplish is difficult to make successful if you don’t understand what it will take to get there. I have to say I am still learning this — but I am getting there.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
I would say the most interesting story that happened to me was when I went to visit the Elephants Without Borders campsite deep in the Botswana, Africa wilderness. I had been working closely with them to write a children’s book with them, called the Elephant and the King (one of our Green Kids Club classic books — which we are now redoing with new art). I was visiting Africa and just so excited to see baby elephants. I stopped at a baby elephant sanctuary in the Kenya area but was not able to get very close to them. Nonetheless, I was excited. But — when I went to the Elephants without Borders camp, I was surprised with the presence of a baby elephant they named Molelo who had experienced losing his family when poachers started a bush fire. Little Molelo was left behind burned and in need. Someone went by and found Molelo and brought him to the Elephants without Borders camp. It was not a planned event — but when I got there, I was able to work closely with the team to help a baby elephant in need. My job was to try and ele-sit and help as much as I could while they nursed him back to health. This was an incredible experience. From this — came our first book from the Environmental Heroes series we are working on. So, in a sense this was also an aha moment! Molelo changed the direction of our books and stories which I feel are moving in a major positive direction.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
I can’t really think of a funniest mistake. I have some funny moments that I won’t ever forget — but not any really are funny mistakes. I would say the hardest mistake I have learned is not recognizing that what I was doing with what I had in the original book series was not working — based on several factors. I think it was right in front of my face — but I did not recognize it. Now I can.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
I would say one of my biggest cheerleaders is Kelly Landen from Elephants without Borders. She loved our brand and what we have been trying to achieve. As I mentioned by virtue of just being there and supporting what we do — my time spent at camp with her and at their elephant orphanage made me realize what it takes to make a difference in saving animals who are in the position to lose their lives because of environmental laws that are not working. The hands on, by watching them in action, and seeing how hard they work to try and make a difference to protect vulnerable elephant populations has taught me so much. They have also encouraged other major conservation groups to work with us — such as Ian Michler from Blood Lions. This has really helped us move forward what we are doing. With Elephants without Borders — we wrote the book, “Molelo, the Fire Elephant,” and with Blood Lions — “A Tail of Three Lions.”
Someone else who has made a huge difference that I have been working with is Thomas Mangelsen a professional wildlife photographer based out of the Jackson, Wyoming area. He has influenced me to look around at what we may or may not be doing right with grizzly bear management. Many grizzly bears are losing their lives due to the impacts of man being irresponsible in many ways. Before the pandemic I started traveling abroad to visit NGO’s and groups working with animals outside of the United States, but since we could not travel out of country, I started focusing on my backyard which includes grizzly bears and wolves. And as a result, we have written two books with Tom’s beautiful photos in the back, Grizzly 399 and Grizzly 399 Hibernation Pandemonium. Beautiful books with a message.
I also have an amazing artist, Morgan Spicer and an excellent editor, Krista Hill and Joy Eagle my “right-hand man,” or artistic lead who works on a daily basis helping me.
Are there three things the community, society, or politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
The issues our books deal with are so complex. Blood Lions — stopping lion farming and exploitation of lions in South Africa; Elephants without Borders — elephants in Botswana and maintaining a healthy population and working to reducing poaching impacts; Saving the Survivor — trying to help veterinarians save animals that have been poached and are still alive; the Rhino Orphanage — helping to get the story out about baby rhinos that have lost their mothers due to poaching; Orang Utan Republik foundation based in Indonesia that are trying to help reduce habitat loss to orangutans from unstainable palm oil farms; Save Elephant Foundation — helping Asian elephants during and after COVID; Love the Wild foundation (foundation I found) and Cougar Fund — working to help grizzly bear management issues in the northwest of the US; Project Chimp — working to save chimps that have undergone medical testing in the US; and Whale Sanctuary Project (we hope) — to help orca’s and dolphins to be released and free again (as some examples).
So, I can’t post three things — but I can let you know the different groups we are working with. We hope our books will bring attention to issues going on in our world and animals and marine life in need of your help. What can you do to make a difference? Here in the United States contact your senators and representatives. Send letters to leads such as Dept. of Interior, etc. — in other countries — work with reputable non-profits or NGO’s that are working to make a difference. Reach out and see what you can do!
To address the root of the issues — education to me is the key — to children, their parents and those who can influence the law and make a positive difference. I hope our books will help make this difference!
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
For companies in other countries — doing safaris with environmental causes and or just taking a photo safari and not a hunting safari. The companies that run these groups make revenue by taking you out to see the animals in their natural habitat and your money makes a difference in continuing conservation of these animals. Some groups claim to do this — don’t automatically assume this is true.
For a business in the US to be more profitable in making sustainable choices — try to buy supplies from companies that use recyclable materials and monitor your use of everyday expenditures in waste management — recycle if you can. I cannot say this will improve the bottom line — but these are good habits that if all companies tried to follow may one day make a difference.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Find a good mentor in the area that you are going after.
- Define what your objectives are an what you want to accomplish — a vision statement that is tangible.
- Don’t assume you are farther ahead in your brand than you are. We did this and spent a lot of money trying to do things too early.
- Be careful with consultants that just try to take your money and make you think you are farther ahead than you are in Brand recognition (part of number 3). There are a lot of them out there.
- Trying to move a product forward that is obviously not moving forward. Have others help you look at what you are doing (who are independent) and give you their opinion. Sometimes you don’t want to hear this — but it would have made a difference with us. I was told early on about a book series we tried to launch which did not succeed (it may with changes) — but I was not told in an effective manner I would say.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
If you love the environment and its animals, then proceed with a plan on how to make this happen. Get a mentor and if you can become an intern with a group you want to work with do it. There is nothing like hands on experience. Sometimes we all have love affairs with an idea — but make sure this is really something that will work for you.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
For me — in all phases of my life “Walk the Walk — don’t just Talk the Talk” — I try hard to do this in every aspect of my life.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
I would honestly say — environmental heroine for me — would be Jane Goodall. Mainly because she is so amazing in what she has done. She walks the walk and talks to the talk. She promotes hope which is so important. That we don’t lose the fact that we can make a difference — the little things we do — can change our world. We can’t lose our hope!
Also, I would say Leonardo DeCaprio because of the many environmental initiatives he has taken on and promotes. He has produced many films to influence positive change and has met with leaders to try and encourage them to make a difference. He is very impressive and his purchase of an island in Belize to protect mangroves is something especially close to my heart since my foundation is working in Belize right now.
How can our readers follow you online?
Go to www.greenkidsclub.com
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This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!