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East Gwillimbury eco enthusiast earns Give Back Award

East Gwillimbury Express

April 23, 2015

By Simon Martin

Every day is Earth Day for Mount Albert teenager Melissa Cusack Striepe.

The Grade 12 Newmarket High School student enjoys nothing more than spending time outside connecting with nature, whether it’s on summer canoe trips, horseback riding or hiking in the York Regional Forest.

She lives with her parents on a hobby farm with heritage plants, chickens, eggs, sheep and lambs.

“My backyard has a little creek going by it. I love it back there,” she said.

Melissa’s awe of nature was fostered at a young age overseas in her father’s native Germany.  There, as a little girl, she went to forest kindergarten, where she spent all her time in ‘class’ outside learning about nature.

People protect what they love and Melissa is no different. Her love of nature has transformed her into a passionate advocate for the ecosystems that fill her with bliss.  

She has been on the Ontario Nature Youth Council for the last five years advocating for different important environmental issues.  

Right now, the council is in the midst of a campaign to protect Ontario’s pollinators, Melissa said.

The council members delivered more than 1,200 signed postcards to Queen’s Park, asking the premier to restrict the use of neonicotinoids, which are insecticides linked to declining bee populations.

Bees are extremely important to the ecosystem, Melissa said, noting they pollinate many crops.

While bans of neonicotinoids have already taken place in Europe, Melissa said they remain a problem in Canada, even though the province recently pledged to reduce their use.

In May, Melissa will host a wildflower planting day to create pollinator habitat.

Aside from the pollinator campaign, Melissa said that as a member of the council she helped organize an annual Youth Summit and other fundraisers.

On top of her work with the youth council, Melissa is busy at Newmarket High School maintaining her high 90s average and working on student council as minister of external affairs.

“It’s a really good way to get involved in the school,” she said. “The student body has given so much to me.”

For all of her efforts, Melissa was awarded a Neighbourhood Network Give Back Award, which go to graduating students in northern York Region who provide outstanding contributions to the community.

“It was a very nice surprise,” she said. “It was nice to be recognized.”

With graduation just around the corner, Melissa said she wants to study chemical engineering so she can be equipped to provide some technical solutions to food security issues.

“For me, it is really important to make change on a local and, hopefully, global scale,” she said.

As corporations in Canada and around the globe mine the earth for valuable resources, governments have not done enough to preserve what we have, Melissa said.

“I do get frustrated,” she said. “It gets to me.”  

It all comes back to the passion Melissa has for the nature that surrounds her.

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