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December 14, 2017


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Link to CDA Press Article


Staff Writer

Conservation is more than just the act of keeping the environment clean and healthy.

It's a mindset, and it's a mindset The Theodores, a North Idaho social club, is helping to spread.

"The Theodores is about educating youths and taking them to nature," said Theodores founder Dylan Stiegemeier, who grew up in North Idaho. "It's not just about picking up trash."

But picking up trash is a good starting point for kids to learn the basics.

Stiegemeier and his sister, John Brown Elementary first-grade teacher Kayla Maloney, took her students on a garbage-seeking adventure last week to educate them about the impact of littering. They closely combed a wooded area near the school, each student excited and proud to be doing his or her part.

“Just showing these kids how much garbage is out here makes them think a little differently about what they produce,” Stiegemeier said. "It makes it harder to walk by other people's trash."

First-grader Alma Walters was eager to share her perspective about The Theodores and its litter projects, known as "Teddy Clean-Ups."

"I’m learning about keeping the world safe and no more garbage in the landfills," she said. "If there’s too much garbage, the Earth will get sicker and sicker and then the animals here won’t survive. Some fish will eat plastic and some animals will die."

Maloney said her class conducted a Teddy Clean-Up last year as well, and this year it has been learning about how garbage affects the planet and the animals that inhabit it.

"I think they get it. It doesn’t take a lot for them to get it,” she said. "This really opens people's eyes when they go out and do it. There is garbage everywhere you go."

While planting the seed of awareness in youths is a Theodores mission, the club hopes to encourage people of all ages to be a bit more like its namesake, Theodore Roosevelt. Take a bag with you and pick up the garbage you see on your evening walk. Grab some trash when you rest during a bike ride. Support those doing good things in your community.

Remember Roosevelt's words: "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."

"Teddy was a great conservationist, champion of social justice and leader," the club's website reads. "Ultimately, the club seeks to have fun and be impactful whether that means picking up trash on Tubbs Hill or helping great local nonprofits put on events."

Stiegemeier said the idea of The Theodores has been with him for a while, but it really got off the ground about three years ago. As a Spokane Falls Community College instructor of political science and global issues, Stiegemeier said he began to notice an unsettling amount of apathy in his students. He has always had an interest in conservation, so when he read Timothy Egan's "The Big Burn," he was reintroduced to Roosevelt's dedication to preserving national forests and other proactive efforts.

Stiegemeier became inspired to start a movement that would make Roosevelt proud.

"People liked Teddy and it didn't matter their ideologies," Stiegemeier said, adding Roosevelt was a key figure who transcended political party lines.

Stiegemeier's vision is also transcending lines — geographic lines. When people conduct a Teddy Clean-Up, they're encouraged to place a special flag provided by Stiegemeier on the bags of trash collected, snap a photo and upload it to an interactive map. People can click on the points to see where Teddys have been completed.

As of Wednesday, Teddy Clean-Ups had been posted in 66 cities in 11 countries, including Colombia, Thailand, Spain and Kyrgyzstan, as well as 30 states or provinces. Nearly 6,000 pounds of trash had been collected and close to 600 people had participated. Almost 40 Teddys have already been done this month.

To receive Theodores patches or flags from Stiegemeier and to complete your own Teddy Clean-Ups or find other ways to help, contact Stiegemeier at teddyrtuesdays@gmail.com.

Future plans for Theodores members include community impact days, organizing a collective of like-minded people to improve their community and Ted Fest, a free music festival that will support local organizations.

Much of the club's funding comes from its members' pockets or from grants, but Stiegemeier said The Theodores will soon be applying for and working toward its nonprofit status.

"I started this club because it needed to be done," Stiegemeier's club biography reads. "I wanted to do something impactful for the community. This is my best attempt. Please join me and let's have some fun."