OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — As a young woman growing up in Oakland, this week’s Jefferson Award winner found purpose in her family hiking and camping trips. Today, she is working to build the next generation of conservation leaders through a unique program that introduces young adults to the world outdoors.

Lesson one in the outdoors is always be prepared. And that’s what Bettina Mok is passionate about: preparing the next generation to be environmental leaders.

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“We do it through hands-on service to the land,” she explained. “So it’s very important that the youth are learning through action and contributing through service.”

Mok is Regional Director of Student Conservation Association, or SCA, a national non-profit that here in the Bay Area focuses on urban youth — teens who often don’t have the opportunity to connect with the greater outdoors.

“I used to just stay in the house watching tv,” said 18-year-old  Velmoh Cooper. “(I) didn’t do anything for my environment.”

Cooper now loves being outside, and through SCA, took her first backpack trip near Ukiah this summer.

“It was one of the best times ever, even though we couldn’t take a shower for a few days, it was so amazing!” Cooper remembered.

Finding teens meaningful summer work in the environment is something Mok works hard to do. Some of her students are paid, others given stipends, but all return inspired.

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“It’s very transformational,” she said. “They come back knowing about careers in the outdoors, knowing that they have some basic skills that could lead them to those careers.”

“I definitely want to continue doing outdoor stuff,” said student Leticia Rangell. “In this program it gives you the opportunity to continue with your leadership skills.”

These skills are reinforced during the school year. Rangell is a senior from San Lorenzo. She volunteers with SCA throughout the school year on weekends doing local projects in regional, state, and county parks, the very places Mok was inspired as a child.

“That added just so much in my life,” Mok said. “I learned to really care about the environment around me.”

And caring about the environment is the first step in protecting it.

“She really thinks we are going to be the generation that is going to bring the change and we can make it happen,” Rangell added.

So for making positive change happen for Bay Area youth, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Bettina Mok.

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Mok says more than 70% of SCA alumni around the country are still active in some form of environmental conservation through their careers or volunteer efforts. To support the work Bettina Mok and the SCA are doing, use this link.