With a population whose average age is 29, Austin, Texas, is a vibrant place, but few of its young people have traditionally been involved in land conservation or environmental stewardship. Recognizing the untapped potential, Andrea Rado and Cheyenne Johnson of Hill Country Conservancy (HCC) launched an innovative program in 2008 to engage hundreds of young professionals in conservation activities and conversations throughout Central Texas: Emerging Professionals In Conservation (EPIC).
All in the Details
To organize and coordinate EPIC, a Leadership Council is chosen by the board of directors and executive director of HCC. The Leadership Council focuses on getting young professionals engaged in conservation efforts through outdoor activities. Members are able to experience the environment while socializing with peers through activities including kayaking, bike riding, paddle boarding, underground caving, peach-picking, camping, hiking, rock climbing, birding and skeet shooting.
Events for this highly successful program are funded using EPIC membership dues. Ranging from $100 per year for students to $1,000 per year for those with greater ability to pay, the various membership levels provide graduated benefits, including quarterly luncheons, tickets to the annual “Hill Country Nights” gala and private briefings with HCC staff.
At the end of the year, membership dues are donated to a conservation initiative chosen by the Leadership Council. Membership dues have contributed nearly $20,000 annually toward external programs, and it is estimated that the program contributes nearly $200,000 each year through membership participation in fundraising committees. Members also regularly donate their time to several initiatives, including Earth Day programs.
New Voices for Conservation
More than just a networking or socializing club, EPIC has remained true to its original mission of educating young professionals about environmental issues through outdoor recreation. Through these activities, EPIC members have developed a more holistic appreciation for their role in conservation, which then reverberates throughout the greater Austin population. As emerging professionals from across the Hill Country are brought together, many new voices can now be heard in conversations about environmental issues, with waiting lists of willing volunteers—what many would deem an example of an “epic” success.