Masada Disenhouse, executive director of nonprofit SanDiego350, knows exactly how to make the most impact with Blue Shield of California’s recent environmental justice investment. “It will allow us to get so many more people engaged, both youth and adults, in this work of protecting our planet and doing it in a way that really prioritizes the people who have been left out of environmental conversations for too long,” she said.
SanDiego350 is a local nonprofit dedicated to preventing the worst impacts of climate change and climate injustice. Organized into pillars of policy, outreach, resistance, youth, and eco-justice, the nonprofit is home to over a dozen volunteer teams. The youth program is critical to their mission, and empowers local young adults in their growing movement to create a sustainable world.
“When you talk about climate change, there’s a lot of concern in youth about their future, because the impacts are going to get worse over time,” said Disenhouse. “So, we’re very interested in engaging them and understanding what they want to see.”
Through efforts ranging from leadership summits to youth-led climate strikes, SanDiego350’s robust youth program has inspired thousands of young adults to fight for their futures using the guidance and tools provided by the nonprofit. One component is their student-led program in two high schools and one middle school in west Chula Vista, an area that regularly scores poorly on the CalEnviroScreen, a tool developed by the California Environmental Protection Agency to identify communities with higher pollution burdens and vulnerabilities. Through the program, SanDiego350 partners with a student liaison intern at each school to offer education, training and advocacy opportunities. The outreach is essential in growing the local movement to fight climate injustice, but also in taking steps to address the detrimental repercussions of climate change on youth mental health.
“I worry we’re not moving fast enough, or focusing enough on BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) communities like mine,” said Abby Costello, a junior at Hilltop High School in Chula Vista, who serves as one of SanDiego350’s community liaison interns. Costello funnels her climate anxiety into her work with SanDiego350 and finds that taking action helps to alleviate the burden of worrying over the future.
Climate anxiety is a growing issue for youth like Costello. A new nationwide Blue Shield of California/Harris Poll survey of over 1,300 youth, aged 14-25, found that 44% of youth were “very concerned” about climate change, with 68% experiencing negative mental health impacts in response to experiencing or hearing about the issue. “Sadly, there’s a lot of climate grief and climate anxiety in youth,” said Disenhouse. “When you have anxiety or you have a sense of injustice, taking action on the issue is a way to be able to deal with those feelings and channel them into something productive and good.”
Costello is not alone. According to that same study, three in four (74%) youth are taking action to address climate change issues.
Disenhouse knows their work with local students has far-reaching impact beyond the present moment. Every year, she watches more youth take the knowledge and tools they’ve gained from SanDiego350 and continue building the movement wherever their lives take them. Students have moved on to start environmental action clubs at their universities, and some have even transformed their passion for climate advocacy into entire careers. It’s a domino effect of impact – initiated by SanDiego350, championed by student leaders like Costello, and further amplified by youth who continue the work throughout their lives.
“I’m determined to fight for our future, and excited to empower more youth like me to take meaningful action on the climate crisis and environmental injustice,” said Costello.
According to Antoinette Mayer, vice president of Corporate Citizenship for Blue Shield and co-founder of BlueSky, Blue Shield of California’s youth mental health initiative, empowering and activating more youth like Costello to take part in climate action and building healthier communities is all part of the company’s mission to create a healthcare system worthy of family and friends and sustainably affordable.
“Climate change is an urgent public health crisis which has a disproportionate effect on marginalized communities and youth mental health,” shared Mayer. “We’re proud to elevate and empower the voices of impacted communities to advance environmental justice and health equity for all.”
The six nonprofit organizations supported by Blue Shield of California’s 2023 environmental justice investments include: Casa Familiar, Communities for a Better Environment, Climate Action Campaign (CAC), Pacoima Beautiful, SanDiego350, and San Diego Food System Alliance. This year’s environmental justice investments specifically focused on addressing climate impacts on marginalized communities and supporting community-led urban greening.
To learn more about Blue Shield of California’s Corporate Citizenship efforts and commitment to environmental sustainability, visit citizenship.blueshieldca.com