Carmel Green Teen Micro-Grant Program students visit White House

From left, Sue Maki, Sitha Vallabhaneni, Shiva Vallabhaneni, Eden Szydlowski and Laasya Mamidipalli at the White House. (Submitted photo)
From left, Sue Maki, Sitha Vallabhaneni, Shiva Vallabhaneni, Eden Szydlowski and Laasya Mamidipalli at the White House. (Submitted photo)

A group of Carmel teenagers recently visited the White House, where they were honored for their work with the Carmel Green Teen Micro-Grant Program, an organization that strives to “make Carmel greener, one youth project at a time.”

The program, which was founded and administered by middle school and high school students in Carmel, received the 2015 President’s Environmental Youth Award from the EPA for Region 5. The award recognizes outstanding environmental projects by youths in kindergarten through high school.

“To have this happen this year, it showed how much their hard work has paid off,” said Sue Maki, the program sponsor and manager of Environmental Initiatives & Education for the City of Carmel Utilities.

Carmel Utilities helped found the program in 2009 with a grant from Clorox for $10,000. To date, Carmel Utilities has contributed $15,000. Grants are given up to $1,000 each to youth-led groups for projects that support the environment and promote sustainability in Carmel. Six projects were funded in 2015, including a butterfly garden, an educational earth fair and four projects promoting recycling and refillable water bottles at Carmel schools.

“They have a lot of impact in many small ways that have led to a really big impact to the entire community,” Maki said.

Since the organization’s founding, grants have funded more than 50 of its environmental projects and engaged more than 800 youth, while saving Carmel citizens an estimated $120,000 in energy costs and reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 250 tons annually. Maki said the grants are small but participants stretch every dollar and inspire others to get involved in the community.

“Carmel Green Teens has inspired countless youth to make a difference in our community,” Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard stated in a press release. “I have watched the program grow and expand through the years thanks to dedicated board members and the financial sponsorship from the City of Carmel Utilities. The projects they have funded and students they have mentored have made a positive impact to both the environment and Carmel community.”

The Carmel Green Teens 2015-16 student board members are Natalie Crawford, Laasya Mamidipalli, Ilsa Shaikh, Eden Szydlowski, Shiva Vallabhaneni, Sitha Vallabhaneni and Aaron Varnau.  Adult board members are Simon Atkinson, Nancy Dietmeyer, Joan Duwve and Maki.