Young Ridgefielders planting seeds for the future through new club

RIDGEFIELD — If you ask 7-year-old Eleni Kounnas, a second grader at Barlow Mountain Elementary School, what has motivated her to become so actively involved with environmental causes, she’ll share several good reasons.

“If we don’t stop polluting, then in a long time the earth is gonna look more like the sun,” she said, noting increased greenhouse gasses and consequential global warming.

Her passion for the environment prompted Kounnas to form a club that aims to make the world a better place to live. The Earth Savers Club derives its name from a popular Berenstain Bears book titled “Don’t Pollute Anymore,” which is a favorite read among its members.

“Obviously I’m proud of her,” said Kounnas’ mom, Megan, an art teacher at Scotland and Farmingville elementary schools. “She’s always been very into the environment. Even in preschool she made a poster talking about why plastics are bad and what they do to the ocean.”

Kounnas’ poster was so noteworthy, in fact, that she was invited to give a presentation to an environmental studies class at Wilton High School.

Kounnas and her friends formed the club during recess at Barlow Mountain. It was also during these sessions where the young students planned several different projects and initiatives that aligned with their goals, including a neighborhood cleanup.

“Eleni invited (my daughter) Madeline to join this club and wanted meetings to start on Sundays at her house,” said Elizabeth Courtney, Kounnas’ neighbor. “They worked on their club logo and wrote a letter to their principal to discuss ways the building can be more environmentally conscious.”

After that, Courtney said, Kounnas invited other neighbors and classmates to take part, which led to their first fundraiser for the Woodcock Nature Center in Wilton. The club raised $150 selling hot apple cider and baked goods and surprised the nonprofit staff with a check while on a recent field trip there.

“I am proud of Eleni’s initiative in continually planting the seed about how to take care of the earth,” Courtney said. “Since a young age she’s encouraged Madeline to help pick up garbage in the neighborhood, put up signs to encourage neighbors to cleanup and has a deep appreciation for nature.”

As a parent, Courtney said, this exemplifies the kind of values she wants to instill in her daughter, of whom she said she couldn’t be prouder for her own work and caring through the club.

“(My daughter) Maya has loved being a part of the Earth Savers Club,” parent Sara Lebovitz said. “We’ve always stressed the importance of taking care of the environment in our home, and she has been excited to find like-minded friends at school.”

Lebovitz also noted certain skills the students were developing through their collective work, including tenacity and leadership.

“If they can be this impactful at age 7, I can’t wait to see what kind of change and progress they will be able to make in the future,” Lebovitz said.

Other upcoming projects include a hot chocolate stand to raise money for a local animal shelter and a can drive to help stock a local pantry, Kounnas said.

But while the club continues its work, Kounnas remains riddled by some very good questions regarding less environmentally-friendly habits that are practiced by those around her. For instance, why would someone use a plastic straw when they could use a paper one — or none at all?

“None would be best,” Kounnas said, “because you can drink water (and) milk without a straw.”

She also noted that unlike the water bottles at school, milk comes in a paper carton. “Why don’t they just put water in the cartons, (too)?” she asked.