A Journey to Compassionate Citizenship

Yanni Pappas, Northeastern University, JGI's Roots & Shoots NYLC Member

Students Rebuild is excited to highlight youth advocates that are making a difference for our ocean and world. We are thrilled to introduce you to Yanni Pappas, who is a member of the Jane Goodall Institute’s Roots & Shoots U.S. National Youth Leadership Council.


Growing up near the ocean, nature had always been my backyard. In my own little childhood world, I was blind to the threats that were actively polluting and destroying the ecosystems I loved. Like many 11-year olds, I had very little knowledge about environmental conservation, until I learned about Dr. Jane Goodall. Seven years later, I’ve gone on a transformative journey of knowledge and action, leading multiple projects as a part of the Jane Goodall Institute’s Roots & Shoots program, and as a Youth Leader on the Roots & Shoots U.S. National Youth Leadership Council. From an 11-year-old who loved nature but didn’t fully understand my role in protecting it, I am now studying Environmental Science and Policy at my university and have become a compassionate citizen committed to protecting the natural world. So how did I get here?

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When I was 11, I joined my school’s environmental club where I learned about Dr. Jane Goodall. I learned about how she defied societal norms and transformed the way we people look at other animals. I learned about how her scientific research and interactions with the natural world and chimpanzees naturally compelled her into advocacy and activism when she was forced to confront global environmental threats. I remember as a middle schooler, being overwhelmed by everything I was learning and surprised at how every one of our daily actions has a significant impact, not just on our local environment but on the planet as a whole. I was angry that not everyone cared.

In the face of apathy, I became even more determined to do what I could to encourage sustainability. While in high school, I became the president of my school's Roots & Shoots club and through the program was given the tools and support to lead projects that helped people, other animals, and the environment. Through R&S, I was encouraged to not only look at the threats in my local community, but to also think critically about how they intersect, identify what issues matter most to me, and what I could do to help. One of my favorite R&S projects was our annual beach cleanup event. It was powerful to witness my classmates coming together for a single purpose, and seeing all the trash and data we were able to collect in just a few hours.

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That was only the beginning. In college, I help lead another environmental club in which we host events that encourage people to learn how we can make decisions and take action to create positive change. I also help with a local nonprofit, Speak for the Trees, which advocates for Boston’s urban tree canopy. Our goal is to not only collect data, but also engage the community with the trees they walk by every day. It is too easy to not notice the natural world that surrounds us, especially in big cities, but it is eye opening when we make an effort to realize how intertwined our lives are with nature. This, I learned from Dr. Goodall, is what compels people to care and to become involved in making better decisions for all.

When I was 11, I was definitely disheartened at the state of our planet. Now, despite growing threats, I am overwhelmed with hope. I have learned so much about people all over the globe working to transform our society to be more sustainable and compassionate. I have also met other incredible young people who are not held back by their age or their presumed lack of power, who care so much about our world, and who are acting in their local communities to create real change. Threats like pollution, climate change, deforestation and species loss are global, but it is our individual actions when multiplied together that can truly transform how we relate to our local environments and enable us all to live more harmoniously with nature. As Dr. Goodall says, “It’s up to us to save the world for tomorrow. It’s up to you and me.”


Ready to continue taking action beyond the Students Rebuild Ocean Challenge? Do a Roots & Shoots One-Click action here. To find out more about how you can join JGI’s Roots & Shoots and become a member of the NYLC, learn more here.

Yanni Pappas, Northeastern University, JGI's Roots & Shoots NYLC Member Yanni is a member of JGI's Roots & Shoots U.S. National Youth Leadership Council (NYLC). As a member of the NYLC, Yanni acts as a youth voice and works to make a positive change in his community — for people, animals and the environment. While studying Environmental Science at Northeastern University in Boston, MA, Yanni is also a leader in his school's environmental education club, and he works with Speak for the Trees Boston to advocate for the city’s urban canopy. In his free time, Yanni enjoys playing with his dog, Kimi, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

About Roots & Shoots: Created in 1991 by Dr. Jane Goodall, the Jane Goodall Institute's Roots & Shoots is a youth service learning program for young people of all ages. Our mission is to foster respect and compassion for all living things, to promote understanding of all cultures and beliefs, and to inspire each individual to take action to make the world a better place for people, other animals, and the environment. Visit to learn more. Follow us at @rootsandshoots.

About the Jane Goodall Institute: The Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) is a global community-centered conservation organization that advances the vision and work of Dr. Jane Goodall. By protecting chimpanzees and other great apes through collaboration with local communities and the innovative use of science and technology, we improve the lives of people, other animals and the natural world we share. Founded in 1977 by Dr. Goodall, JGI inspires hope through collective action, and is growing the next generation of compassionate environmental stewards through our Roots & Shoots youth program, now active in 80 countries around the world. Visit to learn more. Follow us at @janegoodallinst.