Friday, March 23, 2007

Find a passion and ?go for it?

Whitney DeBree named Youth Citizen of the Year

Express Staff Writer

Whitney DeBree, this year?s Youth Citizen of the Year, earned the honor through a dedication to hard work and an active-minded devotion to increasing the valley?s environmental awareness. Photo by Willy Cook

Each year, the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau recognizes the efforts of community-minded individuals, businesses and nonprofit groups in the Wood River Valley. Candidates are brought to the attention of the chamber through nominations from local citizens whose lives have been touched through the actions of the award winners. In the coming weeks, prior to the awards ceremony, each award winner will be recognized in the Idaho Mountain Express.

One would be hard-pressed to find a high school student anywhere in the nation who has challenged and changed her school in such a lasting and profound way as Wood River High School senior Whitney DeBree. Her proven leadership was praised by Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau in naming her the Youth Citizen of the Year for 2006.

"I am very honored to be recognized, but there are a lot of other youth that are doing a lot in the valley," DeBree said. "I really have to share this award with the entire Environmental Club."

The idea to start the school's Environmental Club, where students could gather, discuss and plan for an ever-changing future, was planted after DeBree saw former Vice President Al Gore's movie, "An Inconvenient Truth." The vision began to take roots last December when the newly created organization took a trip to Boise to hear Gore and a number of other environmentally conscious speakers at the Frank Church Conference on Global Warming.

And now, her vision has grown to fruition.

"To know that I started something at Wood River High School that will keep going after I leave, it's a powerful thing," DeBree said. "At our first meeting we had nearly 20 members. I realized there was a lot of interest within our school and all it really took was for someone to step forward."

Following the trip to Boise, the club held a showing of Gore's movie at the Community Campus in Hailey. The event raised enough money to purchase a collection of waste recycling bins that will be distributed throughout Wood River High School—proof-positive that good intentions can be contagious and will often snowball into greater and oft-unforeseen ends.

For example, Gore may have been the keynote speaker on that blustery Boise afternoon, but it was a lesser-known voice that had the greatest impact on young DeBree.

"I was really impressed by Mary Wood, the head of environmental law at the University of Oregon," DeBree said. "Instead of just laying out depressing facts, she talked about positive ways to bring about change."

It was a lesson the active-minded DeBree took to heart. "I plan to study environmental law or business," or maybe both, she said of her future academic endeavors.

"Big change doesn't always happen with big decisions" made either by government or large corporations, DeBree said. "Not everyone needs to take these huge steps. If you choose to recycle or ride your bike to school, you are making a difference."

Following high school, DeBree's path will take her out of the Wood River Valley.

"I will miss it here; it really is beautiful. Most of all, I will miss the small-town feel; everyone smiles and says 'hello' when you pass them on the street."

She is considering attending either Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore., or Linfield College, located southeast of Portland. Both schools have excellent environmental programs and both are located in what is arguably the heart of green-thinking America.

"A few months ago, I was really excited to move on, but now that college is so close, I am getting a little nervous," DeBree said. However, "when you find a passion, you have to just go for it."

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