HIGHLAND PARK – A fourth grade student and a high school sophomore both spoke about their programs to improve the community at the September 28 Highland Park City Council meeting.
Before Mayor Nancy Rotering introduced the young innovators, she explained what brought them to the meeting.
“We invite all third graders to come through City Hall, and we do mock City Council meetings, and they make up their minds about very difficult procedures and questions,” said Mayor Rotering. “I try to tell them that this is their place, and if they ever have a good idea, I want them to come tell the City Council about it.”
Alejandro Reyes, a fourth grade Braeside Elementary School student, took her up on the offer. He founded the website Kids Society for Environmental Support, which raises funds for projects that can help save the environment, he said.
Councilwoman Kim Stone invited him to join the Natural Resources Commission when he enters high school.
Alejandro also fielded questions from the audience. At one point he replied to a question, “Yes, Dad.”
Alejandro explained the requirements to volunteer at KSES, “You have to love the environment. You can’t be on the oil or diesel side that uses fossil fuels, and you need to be pretty good at doing research.”
For more information on Kids Society for Environmental Support visit kseshp.weebly.com.
Mayor Rotering introduced Namrita Narula as “the next student continuing with our student advocacy theme of taking care of our community.”
The Highland Park High School sophomore founded the community service project Seeds of Knowledge last March.
“My mission is to help children learn the importance of healthy eating while providing them with a unique and engaging gardening experience,” said Namrita.
She explained how she was inspired to create Seeds of Knowledge when she was in eighth grade, during Elm Place Middle School’s annual “Day of Giving” event when students spend months collecting books, toys, food, clothing and more for local families in need.
“We collected more than 5,000 cans of non-perishable food items to support more than 100 local families in Highland Park, and I realized that while we were helping curb hunger we weren’t necessarily helping them improve the nutritional value of their diets, so with that thought an idea was born,” said Namrita.
In March she partnered with Highland Park Community Nursery School and Day Care Center and installed an outdoor garden consisting of four raised beds, and one digging box.
“I started in the nursery school atmosphere, because I really wanted to instill healthy habits among kids at a very young age,” said Namrita. During recess they like to harvest, plant seeds, water, and weed and all of the fresh produce is used in their school lunches to make salads and sandwiches.”
She visits the nursery school once a week to do different activities related to healthy eating, nutrition, and education and gardening. Next month Namrtia will install hydroponic vertical garden towers in each of their five classrooms to allow the kids to have a year round gardening experience
Namrita has also partnered with North Suburban Special Recreation Association, Moraine Township Food Pantry Garden, and the Park District of Highland Park.
“The Park District of Highland Park has generously loaned me a garden plot there, so this summer I have donated over 80 pounds of fresh produce to the Food Pantry, and my goal by the end of the planting season is to have donated over 100,” said Namrita.
To help finance Seeds of Knowledge, she sold seed starter kits every week at Ravinia Market.
Namrita described how her visit to South Beach Miami ignited an idea to help families in Highland Park. She saw bright yellow parking meters that said, “Feed a Meter, Change a Life,” which raised money for the homeless in South Miami.
Namrita hopes to partner with the City of Highland Park to install these parking meters all over the community. “My goal is to help combat food insecurity in Highland Park, and for all of the collected money to go to the Moraine Township Pantry for local families,” she said.
She created the slogan, “Feed the Meters, Feed your Neighbors,” and encouraged students to have an art contest for best sign design.
“I can’t think of a better way to show that Highland Park is a diverse and caring community and I would love to partner with the city on this venture.” said Namrita.
Mayor Rotering offered to introduce Namrita to Ramesh Kanapareddy, director of public works.
“I want to thank you and Alejandro. You have really shown what advocacy is and the importance of using your voices to bring a change to the world, so keep doing it and thank you so much,” Mayor Rotering added.
To learn more about Namrita’s organization visit Seeds of Knowledge on Facebook.