A longtime tree lover, Yanni Pappas began his work with Roots & Shoots in 7th grade…
managing the recycling program at his school. He spent his free time collecting classmates’ bottles and cans from the lunchroom, washing them out in the school’s basement, and delivering them to the recycling center in town, a daunting task given the volume of materials needing to be recycled. But Yanni kept going, because, as he said himself, “I knew that every little bit matters.”
Today, Yanni is a freshman at Northeastern University working with Speak for the Trees, an organization whose mission is to “increase public engagement with, planting of, and stewardship of urban trees in the Greater Boston Area, especially in underserved communities.” Yanni is working on a project to develop an inventory of every urban tree in Boston and use this data to determine where trees are dying, what can be done to help them, and where more trees need to be planted. Ultimately, the goal is to create a sustainable tree canopy for the city of Boston.
We caught up with Yanni to hear more about how his involvement with Roots & Shoots has led him to where he is today.
What inspires you to be an activist? How did you get started in this work?
Growing up, the natural world was my playground. The woods around my house, the beach down the street — I always had this longing to be in nature. No matter what happened in my life, I could turn to the trees or the ocean, and everything would be right. This created, and continues to fire, the passion I have for caring for people, animals, and the environment. Living sustainably is something I strive for not only because it makes sense, but because I want to be living and growing with the world instead of living and growing at the expense of the world.
How is being a leader different now that you’re in college?
In high school, there were things I wanted to change, but I convinced myself that I was too young or did not have the authority to do it. However, I no longer feel that I have that excuse. I now realize that I have to be brave enough to make the changes I want to see. College has helped me realize that I can be the leader I have dreamed of being.I went to a very small high school, and the biggest challenge there was getting people to participate. In college, I’ve found so many people who care and really want to participate. It’s about working with other people. Creating a space where everyone can bring their skills and passions and use them effectively under a larger goal.
How has your involvement with Roots & Shoots impacted your life today?
Roots & Shoots was the pulling force that brought me into the realm of environmental activism. The program made me more aware of what was happening in the world, but more importantly, it gave me the tools to do something about it. I know that my life will always involve everything I learned (and am still learning) from Roots & Shoots.
What advice do you have for other young people who want to get involved in their communities or make a difference in the world?
My biggest obstacle in everything I do is fear. I get incredibly nervous when I talk to people, and a lot of times I don’t try something because I’m afraid it won’t work. I’m still working to overcome these fears, but I’m starting to realize that I can’t let myself be held back so easily. Making a difference in the world is not easy. It takes work and can be really scary at times. My biggest advice to anyone who wants to get involved in their community is to be brave. Follow your passions and don’t let fear hold you back from doing what you want to be done.