The Big Blue’s Reward for Its Volunteers

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By Colin West

In the world of environmental activism, there’s something truly special about the spirit of community engagement and volunteerism. I’m honored to say that every employee in our organization, Clean Up the Lake, began as a volunteer, including myself. I’m even more pleased to say that many of my friends, and even good friends attending my bachelor party this May, I met volunteering. I’ve seen firsthand how incredible it is for the environment, and for each individual, when people join forces for a common cause.

Since our inception in 2018, our mission at Clean Up the Lake has been to activate local communities into taking action to protect their environment, both above and below the surface. As the lead underwater garbage man of this crew, I can confidently say we would not be here today if it was not for the effort of our volunteers. Whether it’s our underwater clean-ups, surface-support crews, youth program volunteers, or litter-sorting events, it’s the enthusiasm and dedication of the hundreds of volunteers we have had that keep our efforts moving and our mission alive.

One of the biggest motivating moments of my life was when one of my best friends told me that his decisions had no impact on our planet. He was one person in a world of 7.9 billion, so why should he care? This lit a fire beneath me. I wanted to prove him wrong. I wanted to show him how not only does each person’s decision matter, but they add up to a collective difference and some individual’s decisions can spark movements in their wake. This definitely inspired me to work passionately at Clean Up the Lake and leave behind my for-profit life. Today, I and five other employees dedicate our professional lives working full time to protect Lake Tahoe and other lakes from submerged litter degradation and aquatic invasive species (AIS) infestations.

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It’s crucial to understand that addressing environmental issues isn’t solely the responsibility of organizations. While governmental policies and corporate initiatives play a part, real progress stems from grassroots movements led by passionate individuals. Volunteering for environmental causes also empowers individuals and gives them a sense of agency. In a world where environmental degradation can feel overwhelming, taking action, no matter how small, reaffirms our ability to affect change. Every piece of litter picked up, every tree planted, and every AIS survey documented adds to the collective effort for change.

If you haven’t already, you need to drop this misconception that environmental activism is reserved for a select few. The truth is, anyone can be a catalyst for change by simply getting involved. Whether you’re a student, a professional, a retiree, or a parent, there are countless opportunities to contribute your time and skills to environmental conservation.

What’s truly inspiring about community involvement is the sense of connection and purpose it creates. When people rally together for a shared goal, bonds form, friendships bloom, and a shared sense of duty emerges. Volunteers at Clean Up the Lake not only work toward a common goal, but we find fulfillment in knowing we’re making a tangible impact in our own backyard, and we have a heck of a lot of fun while we do it.

I’m constantly inspired by the dedication and passion of our volunteers; it is their collective action that drives progress. I encourage you to believe that you can make a difference, step outside your comfort zone, and lend a helping hand and make our home a better place. Together we can continue to harness the energy of our communities and work toward a future where our environment flourishes, and our communities and the individuals within them thrive.

~ Colin West is the CEO and founder of Clean Up the Lake. Equipped with experience as a PADI Divemaster and open water Scuba instructor, he also had a 15-year tenure as the owner, director, and executive producer of a prominent film and television production company. West has lived in the area for 10 years and currently resides in Stateline, Nevada.

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