CLIMATE MINI-MAKEOVERS: Birds are real. So is climate change. And so is your ability to help.

We combat the climate crisis by empowering young people to perform bird-friendly mini-makeovers on their homes, schools, & parks.

Photo of John McPhie
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Please confirm you meet the following criteria

  • We have submitted the supplemental form linked in the description above
  • We are aged between 14 - 20 as of February 11, 2021
  • We live in the United States or its territories (Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa)
  • We are not employed by, or directly related (parents or siblings) to a current General Motors (GM) or Ashoka employee
  • We have been working on this project for at least three months
  • We consent to Ashoka and/or GM featuring our work on their website, social media, and in other materials regarding this Challenge using the information in our application
  • We confirm we have the rights to use and share any content uploaded on this entry form

Website or social media url(s) (optional):

Date You Started Your Project


Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Established (successfully passed early phases, have a plan for the future)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

In the earth’s past, its climate changed slowly, giving plants & animals time to adapt. But today, as birds face habitat loss (rising sea levels), food insecurity (invasive species), & disrupted migration/reproduction (warming temperatures), it seems that our world is changing almost faster than plants & animals can adapt. But we as humans can adapt. We can change what we are doing. We can perform climate mini-makeovers right where we live.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

We empower young people to pursue environmental justice right in their own communities by teaching them how to perform mini-makeovers on their yards, patios, balconies, & shared spaces. As young people act locally, they reduce their carbon footprint, create bird-friendly habitats, learn about the climate crisis, & become part of the solution. We help young people recognize & weed out invasive species, & then replace them with native plants. In order to survive, native birds need the native plants that they have evolved with. The problem with the plants that are available in many nurseries is that they are exotic species that come from other places. The exact qualities that are extolled by the nurseries (such as having leaves that are resistant to native insects and caterpillars) are the same qualities that make them poor sources of food for native birds. It turns out that over 90% of North American bird species feed insects to their young, so insect-proof plants might as well be artificial plants. Without insects, birds have nothing with which to nourish their young. Climate mini-makeovers create bird-friendly environments which provide food, save water, & fight climate change.

3. Please tell us how you are using science, technology, engineering or math to address your environmental challenge.

We use science to dispel myths about climate. People think their yards are good for the environment since plants are able to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during photosynthesis. But yards can generate more carbon dioxide than they absorb if caring for them is fossil-fuel dependent. The gasoline, chemicals, & water required to maintain traditional turf grass yards is not earth-friendly. Furthermore, grass provides nothing in the way of habitat or food for birds. We use science to help young people find climate-friendly native species to replace their grass. Our best resource is the Audubon’s native plants database. People can enter their zip code to get a list of native plants specific to their areas. These native plants provide the essential nutrients & shelter needed by vulnerable local birds. We use science to teach best practices for landscaping, such as using electric versions of common gas tools that spew carbon emissions, like leaf blowers, lawn edgers & hedge trimmers. We teach young people how to make their own compost instead of using synthetic fertilizers that not only require tons of energy to produce, but also trap heat in the atmosphere.

4. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

During this pandemic, we've spent more time outdoors. We love to notice, sketch, & paint what we see. Birds are one of our favorite things to document. They're incredibly diverse, impossibly beautiful, often surprising, & unbelievably helpful. They keep our water supply safe by preventing erosion. They dispose of carcasses, making the world more sanitary & slowing the spread of disease. They control pests, helping crops & orchards & fields thrive. They pollinate plants. They disperse seeds. Even if they did none of this, birds have inherent worth, & we have a moral responsibility to protect them. Earth is our shared home. Our lives are inseparably linked. CLIMATE MINI-MAKEOVERS is a natural outgrowth of our desire to help protect & care for the birds we love as a small but crucial part of caring for our planet. We believe small (even mini!) innovative actions can create lasting change.

5. Video (Keep it simple, your phone on selfie-mode is great): Please upload a 1-minute video to YouTube that answers the following “I am stepping up to be a Changemaker because...”

We are stepping up to make a change because climate mini-makeovers can help heal our planet!

6. Please highlight the key activities you have carried out to bring your project to life.

We have led & helped with habitat restoration projects at eight local parks & schools. We have recruited & organized 80 volunteers to clear out trash & replace invasive species with native species to provide nourishment for local & migratory birds. We have helped 60 middle schoolers change their home environments by taking simple, concrete actions to create bird-friendly sanctuaries in their homes & local community spaces. These changes have been small but lasting.

7. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

We’re youth-led. We think globally & act locally. We’ve built solid relationships with key community players: our city’s Youth Action Team, Scouts BSA, Sea & Sage Audubon Jr Naturalists, & Botanical Gardens. We’ve earned the Outdoor Ethics Action Award, Keep America Beautiful Hometown USA Award, & Points of Light Award. We’ve been part of successful, ongoing conservation efforts at several schools & parks: Polliwog Park, South Bay Adult School, Balboa Freshwater Marsh, Turtle Rock Community Park, Heritage Park, Shadetree Nursery, Oso Lake, & Crystal Cove State Beach.

8. Impact: In the last three months, please detail the impact your project has made.

This year, we taught 60 middle schoolers to create bird-friendly habitats at home, winning the Keep America Beautiful Hometown USA Award for creating lasting improvements. Consistent with COVID-19 safety protocols, we dropped off the bird supplies at a community center for students to pick up in advance & taught summer camp classes for youth in our city over Zoom. Some of them live in single-family homes with yards & gardens. Others are in apartments with balconies, or duplexes with porches. We implemented universal principles across varied settings, teaching students to plant drought-resistant, easy-to-grow, native plants; make water available year-round for birds to bath in & drink; leave the leaves to provide habitat & foraging grounds; avoid poisons & pesticides so that there are insects & pests for birds to eat; keep cats indoors; provide nesting niches; & prevent window collisions.

9. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

We've engaged 80 volunteers in habitat restoration, helped 60 middle school students perform bird-friendly mini-makovers on their own homes, & helped with conservation at 8 schools & parks. We will increase all these numbers this year, coordinating with local wildlife officials to identify locations where our help is most needed. We love making movies (see our "HiMc Films" YouTube channel ) & we want to create a series of videos showing young people giving mini-makeovers to their own homes & neighborhood parks & schools. We can have some fun with our BEFORE & AFTER mini-makeover pictures. We can use social media to recruit volunteers to join our efforts in thinking globally about our planet, & acting locally to make our environment better.

10. Please share how you have influenced other young people to get involved in your project and/or care about environmental sustainability.

We created @johns_aviary to promote environmental sustainability. Influencers share our posts & leave comments: "Super glad you’re sharing this code of ethics!" "Thanks for sharing this great info! It's so important for Bolsa Chica & the world in general." That's our mission: think globally ("the world in general") & act locally ("Bolsa Chica" or wherever's local for you!). Thinking isn't enough. We measure success by actual homes & spaces that have had mini-makeovers to now be bird-friendly.

11. How would you partner with other changemakers to make a difference?

The city’s Waste Management provided dumpsters to take away our habitat restoration trash. The city lent us shovels & wheelbarrows. The Botanical Garden shared their expertise on invasive & native plants. The Youth Action Team has given permission to teach bird-friendly mini-makeovers to middle schoolers. To these partnerships, we'll add Scouts, Boys/Girls Clubs, National Charity League, Elks Lodge & Rotary Club (youth initiatives), as we lead conservation projects they can join in 2021 &beyond.

12. How would you engage others who have never heard about your project to get their buy-in?

We get buy-in by showing that climate mini-makeovers are small, actionable steps that young people can take right now, right where they live. We can help the birds that land on our balconies, drink from our birdbaths, & forage in our yards. We can weed out invasive plants, replacing them with nourishing ones. We connect people with the part of the planet they inhabit. As we each act to improve our immediate surroundings, our earth will be made-over into a patchwork of beautiful, improved spaces.

13. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Friend support
  • Family support
  • Mentors/advisors
  • Donations less than $100

14. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you? You’ll be able to select only one option.

  • Brand Development

Are you employed, or directly related (grand-parents, parents, sibling) to a GM or Ashoka employee?

  • No

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others


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Photo of Nick Christoforou

Love the creativity! Keep up the good work!

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