As we are rapidly approaching finals week, the light at the end of the tunnel is becoming increasingly brighter. Summer, and the freedoms that come with it, can entail both stress and relief — considering our current economic predicament. Whereas Cal Poly once boasted about the plentiful job offers that rained down on its graduates only a few years ago, now we envy anyone with a steady paycheck. But even with today’s limited options, there are still some prime summer internships up for grabs. And I’m not talking about the filing-and-copying variety.

Building more sustainable cities is going to take a lot of work. Living a one-planet lifestyle, in a one-planet city, implies that we’ve halted our outpouring of climate changing emissions and we are using our share of resources efficiently. This level of local planning and organization will require us to imagine new programs and projects that will create the sustainable infrastructure of the future. Young activists are already proving that they’re hungry for jobs in these fields. Case in point: The Summer of Solutions, a two-month program created and run by a group of students at Macalester College, in St. Paul, Minn. Instead of leaving the Twin Cities, the students used their summer break to envision the city they wanted to live and work in. By the end of the summer they had created local partnerships, networks and projects dealing with issues such as energy efficiency, local food production and renewable energy.

One of the most successful projects that the students got off the ground last summer was called Cooperative Energy Futures. This energy efficiency project connected local contractors with neighborhood groups to insulate a large number of houses under one contract. Together, the homeowners bought all the necessary items in bulk and then signed a group contract with an energy efficiency expert. Focusing on one neighborhood meant the contractor could serve more homes while reducing transportation costs, and it also ensured the contractor a consistent source of revenue. The volunteers at Cooperative Energy Futures conducted the research and development and assisted in helping the different groups find each other. The cooperative hopes to continue the project this summer, hopefully extending their services to low-income communities.

Many green economy jobs — such as the ones a business like the Cooperative Energy Futures could provide — don’t quite exist yet. But that’s not stopping these students from training for them now. “We need to create the opportunities from the ground level, where there isn’t necessarily capacity to do it,” Macalester student Timothy Den Herder-Thomas said. “To fix the problems, we need to figure out a way to build a society that works … Yet no one knows what that looks like.”

This summer, the program will continue and expand to include 13 more cities across the United States, including West Coast cities like San Francisco, Seattle, Portland and Eugene. Funded by local, regional and national grants, the students will begin working on projects that will help them develop their cities into places where local opportunities, climate and energy solutions and social justice abound.

Den Herder-Thomas said that he hopes that the program will produce self-sustaining initiatives that could eventually offer career opportunities for those involved. In addition, he hopes that the Summer of Solutions 2009 can help to build a model for citizens and community groups who wish to do this type of work in their own communities.

On the flipside, it’s increasingly common these days for folks who are interested in global issues, sustainability and building a better world to want to spend time volunteering for some good cause in another country. We, the idealistic, the globally concerned — we love to travel and are curious about other cultures. We find that spending an extended period of time in another country and giving of ourselves to help improve conditions for those who are less fortunate than ourselves teaches us fascinating things and enriches our lives.
The San Francisco based nonprofit Foundation for Sustainable Development (FSD) harnesses the enthusiasm of globally concerned young people in order to fulfill its mission: “To support the efforts of local development organizations working to improve the welfare of the people living in their communities.” Since 1995 FSD has partnered with grassroots organizations in the developing world, providing them with human resources, financial resources and technical assistance.

FSD works with local development organizations in Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Uganda, Kenya and India. The local organizations work in a wide range of areas related to sustainable development: microfinance, environment, health, youth and education, women’s empowerment, community development and human rights.

The cornerstone of FSD’s work is the Internship Program, through which individuals participate in a volunteer internship with a local development organization for anywhere from 8 to 52 weeks. Along with the intern’s time and skills, the local host organizations receive a grant to support the intern’s work activities. FSD also runs shorter-term programs, including its enrichment trips: “Adventure Travel for the Service-minded,” summer service trips and study tours.

The volunteer programs are integrated with homestays with local families, designed to provide volunteers with a cultural immersion experience. Historically most of FSD’s volunteers have been college students and graduate students, but as a result of recent outreach efforts, an increasing number of professionals are participating in FSD programs. Although most of FSD’s volunteers are American, citizens of many other countries, such as Canada, the UK, Singapore, Japan, Spain, Switzerland, Australia and India have participated.

So while the current job market might seem bleak, know that there are still some options out there. And I encourage you to make the most of your summer — strive to affect the most positive change that you can with the time available. And have fun with it. You’re only young for so long. As Maya Angelou once succinctly put it: “Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.”

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