Learn how the Conservation Leadership Institute is fostering the future champions of conservation in Jackson and helping them take leadership.
In 2017, Michael Yin signed up to participate in the Alliance’s Conservation Leadership Institute (CLI) program. He had recently moved to Jackson Hole from New York, and wanted to get to know his new community better and get involved in local issues. The following year, Mike became the first Chinese-American lawmaker in Wyoming’s history after becoming Teton County’s representative for House District 16. He won re-election in 2020 and has focused his agenda on expanding healthcare and public education, while being a champion of conservation and sustainable energy development in the state. (As a nonpartisan nonprofit, we don’t endorse anyone in elections, but we do lobby legislators and comment on their decisions.)
While Mike is a great example of young leaders who have emerged from the Alliance’s CLI course, he is only one of many. Over 100 participants have successfully completed the course, learning the necessary skills to organize, advocate, and become effective grassroots activists in our community. Graduates have gone on to lead successful local campaigns, join volunteer boards in local government and organizations, and even start their own nonprofits.
More importantly, CLI participants learn how to get involved in local decisions and use their voice and collective power to make a difference. Mike explains the importance of this: “By supporting new leaders, we get to hear voices that don’t always get heard. Some people want to have their voices heard but they do not know how. CLI trainings help people figure out how.”
Today we highlight some of our CLI graduates who, like Mike, are using their voice to protect the wildlife, wild places, and community character of Jackson Hole into the future. They explain how CLI ignited their civic engagement and conservation passions, and what they found most helpful from the program. We hope that their stories will inspire other individuals who want to become leaders and activists in our community to sign up for this no-charge program.
In 2018, Nikki Kaufman signed up to participate in the Conservation Leadership Institute. The course ignited her love for civic engagement and taught her skills that have helped her in her endeavors ever since.
“The skills I learned from CLI, traits like community organizing and learning who and how to reach out to the right people in this community, those are things I wouldn’t have learned elsewhere,” says Nikki.
After CLI, Nikki joined the Solid Waste and Recycling Board as well as our own Advisory Council. She also works for a national non-partisan, nonprofit organization called Vote Run Lead that trains women to run for public office and win.
“Representation matters. If you do not see yourself on a board or in office, then why do you think the issues that mean something to you are going to get addressed?” she asks. “If we don’t have representative leaders then we don’t get adequate representation. The Conservation Leadership Institute and Get on Board helps young people get involved in local decisions and bolsters representation in our community.”
“The Conservation Leadership Institute (CLI) showed me not just that there are other young people who care about these issues, but also how much power we have, both individually and collectively. Being able to work inside the framework that CLI had helped [me] develop skills like planning, public comment, and creating a coordinated campaign and feeling empowered about how to effectively participate in this community.”
Miles Yazzolino is a graduate of last year’s CLI class. Taking the course showed him that young people like him have a voice and CAN be active participants in the community. Today, he sits on the Pathways Task Force and heads the Jackson Hole chapter of the Sunrise Movement.
“There’s a lot of really exciting and hotly debated things going on in Teton County, and people have opinions but all those opinions are not usually heard with the demographics that hold power and exist here,” says Miles. “[Young people] honestly should have the biggest voice here. Increasing diverse age groups, backgrounds, having their voice being a part of conservation and the other economics and humans issues is very important. We need to hear everyone’s voices, more.”
CLI was a great experience for Miles, and he highly recommends it to any young person in the community who wants to make an impact in some way.
“It was really fun, and getting to connect with good people was awesome. We felt empowered and realized how much of a difference we can make,” he recalls. “Based on how few people actually hop in and get involved with local government, your voice can have an outside impact. Having that voice is super powerful.”
“I moved to Jackson Hole in my early 20s and cared a lot about conservation. I was looking for community and place, and the Alliance gave me that place through CLI.”
Phoebe Stoner graduated from the first Conservation Leadership Institute class in 2013. The experience connected her to opportunities and showed Phoebe that her voice and opinions had power in the community.
“I remember giving public comment at a planning commission,” she tells. “I realized that the representatives were actually acknowledging what I was saying! It was a very powerful realization… There are certain power dynamics and barriers that make us think our voice is not valid, but the Alliance helped me realize that we are actually immensely powerful.”
To young people considering whether to take CLI, Phoebe would say go for it and do not doubt your qualifications.
“I think there’s often this stereotype that you have to have X years of experience to do something. That is baloney, and it holds us back – especially us women – who doubt and question ourselves. Remember, your experience and perspective IS your qualification. You can add value and new perspectives.”
Phoebe served on the Town and County board of Parks and Recreation for two years before serving on the board of Wyoming Wildlife Federation. Today she lives in Oregon and works for a residential solar power company while sitting on the board of Northwest Steelheaders.
Anne Marie Wells
“A lot of people starting a campaign from scratch see a problem, but don’t know how to get started. The Conservation Leadership Institute helps you get organized to do the first steps.”
When Anne Marie Wells took CLI in 2014, she learned the skills to organize people around a specific mission and goal. These skills have helped her in her many projects since, and she believes that they are applicable to any campaign that a young activist might be interested in launching.
“The advice that I would tell someone who is interested in CLI is to apply even if you don’t have a specific goal in mind, because as you meet other people and go through the course, ideas will spring through your mind,” says Anne Marie. “You’ll feel like you have the skills to insert yourself and be part of the solution… There’s so many opportunities to participate in the community trying to provide a service or solution to the problems that are interconnected.”
Today, Anne Marie works for Womentum and as the Development Director for Community Entry Services, a nonprofit which empowers and provides support for adults with disabilities. She is currently working to improve accessibility in town parks, including Mike Yokel Park. She also serves on the Wyoming Stargazing board.
Rebecca Berry graduated from CLI in 2017, and she was such a superstar she returned in 2020 to help teach the course!
“I love building relationships with people and collaborating to make change in the community. Taking CLI was a great stepping stone to do organizing. I learned new skills and got to practice giving public comment and getting other people to take action.”
“My generation is very interested in making sure that Jackson and Wyoming have a livable future for us. It’s important they have power and tools to build that future.”
Today, Rebecca is the Organizing Director at Better Wyoming. She assists with statewide, grassroots organizing and mass communications regarding state politics and builds people power in communities across Wyoming.
“CLI helped me strategically identify goals and come up with a winning strategy. It was the first time I got to go through the process of designing a campaign and carrying it out. Now I’m able to work on different types of campaigns, utilizing some of the skills I learned through CLI.”