South Tahoe High School Spanish teacher Maria Luquin surveyed the group of high school students before her on Tuesday as she went over the logistical details of an upcoming Generation Green field trip to San Francisco.
"Who here needs sleeping bags? Raise your hands," Luquin said.
Hands shot up around the classroom. Some of the members of the student club had never been to San Francisco. Others had never been hiking or camping before joining the program designed to teach students about forestry and the Tahoe environment.
Generation Green started in 2008 as a direct result of a U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit work project, Forest Service Conservation Education Program Specialist Joy Barney said. Youth worked for the LTBMU during the summer, and by the next year, the students along with Forest Service and Lake Tahoe Unified School District advisors like Luquin established the club.
"It's really working on our local community and we're targeting kids who don't have access to these opportunities. We're trying to attract students who haven't had access to the outdoors, and activities like backpacking and camping," Barney said.
Neither junior Karina Enriquez nor senior Daniel Loyola had much outdoor experience before they joined the club. Now Enriquez works as the club's Forest Service liaison and Loyola is the treasurer.
"Generation Green is awesome. I'm very interested in the Lake Tahoe environment and it sounded like a fun way to meet people," Loyola said.
The STHS senior wants to pursue forestry work after graduation, hopefully with a position in the LTBMU, he said.
Loyola wouldn't be the first Generation Green club member to join the USFS ranks. South Lake Tahoe native Hillary Santana wasn't new to the outdoors when she helped lead the first Generation Green summer work group as assistant crew leader in 2008, but she hadn't previously thought about a USFS career.
"I had such a phenomenal summer with Joy. I learned so much and I thought that maybe I would pursue the Forest Service as a career," Santana said.
While studying for a biology degree from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, Santana spent her summers working with the LTBMU. She said she wanted to keep abreast of the opportunities Generation Green opened. When she graduated in 2012, she already had a job lined up in the USFS special uses program.
"Basically Generation Green prepared me to get my foot in the door. They try and create opportunities for you to come back," Santana said.
When the STHS alum isn't working full time as the special uses permitting administrator with the LTBMU, she's coaching volleyball games at the high school. It's a way to give back to her community, she said.
The goal of Generation Green is to open up those opportunities for youth, Barney said, but it's up to the students to capitalize on them.
"We're providing an avenue for them and they've been taking it to amazing degrees," Barney said.
It's not just a path to a degree in environmental science or engineering though, LTBMU conservation education assistant Megan Dee said. Generation Green also emphasizes and teaches leadership skills.
"It's a place of belonging for them. They feel this is their club. If students are looking to be in some sort of environmental group, great. But the leadership opportunities are really stressed," Dee said.
On Tuesday the teens prepared for a weekend trip to an Outdoor Nation Intensive Leadership Training Summit in San Francisco. It's two days of intensive development lessons to teach students how to grow and sustain community action plans, projects and organizations. On Saturday at 5 a.m. the club will lumber into the bus and drive to the coast ready with sleeping bags and a passion for the outdoors.
"This club opens up opportunities for students that they didn't know existed. It really changes lives and it really develops leadership," Luquin said.