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Community Action Projects for the Environment

Community Action Projects for the Environment

Is your youth group motivated to take action to make their community, and their environment, better for everyone? Community Action Projects for the Environment (CAPE) helps youth learn more about local environmental issues, select one to explore, and effectively voice suggestions for change to community decision makers. CAPE is designed for 4-H clubs and has been used effectively by teachers and leaders of clubs, ages 11 to 18. The program includes activities and resources for eight meetings.

Want to make a difference? Grab your CAPE! This website introduces the program and offers CAPE materials, leader training, and implementation suggestions for state programs. You can even earn a certificate after you complete the training! Examples of what youth groups have done are also highlighted.

CAPE Leader Training and Materials To access the CAPE training, all program materials, and other resources; click on the button below. This will open up Canvas where you will create a free account to access the materials.


CAPE (Community Action Projects for the Environment) is a program designed for 4-H youth, ages 11-18; although the model can be used with any class or youth group. The program guides youth through the process of brainstorming, exploring, developing, implementing, and reflecting on a project that addresses a community environmental issue and results in asking a decision maker to make a change that benefits everyone.


  • What is CAPE designed to do?

    The CAPE program is designed to address these objectives:

    • Youth will be able to engage in community governance and local civic processes at an appropriate scale for their selected issue, with the support of stakeholders and partners.
    • Youth will gain self-efficacy and collective efficacy as they work with their club and partners to address an environmental issue in their community.

    With CAPE, leaders can prepare youth to be active and responsible community members, while helping the community appreciate and incorporate youth voices in decision making. This process builds on a strong foundation of service projects and civic engagement. It builds youth skills in problem solving, communication, decision making, and systems thinking. CAPE empowers youth to take action, but only after considerable thought, research, and planning. The process suggests that youth engage with community stakeholders and decision makers as they explore the issue to understand the environmental, economic, justice, and social components of the problem and potential solutions. When forming their request to community leaders, youth are encouraged to think about what will make their request more successful, and to embark on collecting data or a pilot project to persuade the decision makers of the value of their suggestion. Of course, reflection happens throughout the CAPE process to help youth realize how their knowledge and skills are changing, as part of the Do, Reflect, Apply learning model.

    Graphic of skills that the CAPE program enhances

    Important skills are strengthened through the CAPE program that enable youth to engage with decision makers.

  • What does the CAPE program consist of?

    The CAPE process is structured around eight meetings. In addition to activities that take place during the meetings, each meeting also includes a mission to help keep the momentum moving forward and to help youth prepare for the next meeting.

    Graphic of the 8 meetings in the CAPE program

    The eight meetings that make up the CAPE process are outlined above.

  • Why EE and Civic Engagement?

    Environmental education provides the knowledge and skills to enable people to make decisions and engage in creating a better environment. To meet this goal, it is essential that learners have opportunities to make a difference and a supportive environment to practice doing so. Opportunities at the community level (as opposed to the individual or family level) mean working with community leaders in business and government. Civic engagement is the process of learning about governance and civic life. CAPE provides youth with an opportunity to practice civic engagement with support of the club or school and leader/educator. This is an ideal blend to strengthen youth skills, provide youth with a voice, and enable youth to make a difference in their community.

    Listen to this podcast of a 4-H leader describing her experience with CAPE.

  • Earth Force Model

    CAPE is closely modeled off Earth Force, an environmental education organization that builds the capacity of educators to engage youth in environmental action civics. Earth Force has a variety of resources to support educator professional development and youth programs as young people become active citizens who improve their environment and communities. In many ways, CAPE is a condensed version of the Earth Force process. Commonalities to both CAPE and Earth Force include asking a decision maker to make a policy change, taking time to research an issue before selecting a project, which helps youth select more reasonable issues they can more easily affect, emphasizing youth decision-making so they select the issue that interests them and the project to which they can commit their energy, and helping youth make wise decisions and reflect on this process. If you to dig deeper into youth action projects, visit Earth Force for videos, activities, and other resources that could be useful to your group.

What Kids Can Do

  • Ideas for CAPE Projects

    There are a host of possibilities for CAPE projects. Groups of youth have already used CAPE to address issues including cyclist safety on rail-trail bridges, urban forest canopy, microplastic waste, and pollinator conservation in their communities. As you try to envision what a CAPE project might look like in your community, it can be helpful to read about the amazing things that kids can do if they have a shared vision and the support they need.

    The examples below are a great place to start!

    Read NY Times article on CAPE kids' fight against pesticides in parks.

  • 2023 CAPE Pilot Projects

    Sarasota, FL

    A 4-H County Council teen leadership group in Sarasota, FL asked their local extension office to plant a pollinator garden and created educational videos to teach about the importance of pollinators and how to support pollinators. Their involvement in raising livestock for their 4-H projects led them to focus on supporting pollinators, aligning with their interests and environmental concerns. Through this hands-on project, they aimed to positively impact their community through education. With the help of the CAPE program and a Florida 4-H Community Pride grant, they planted pollinator-friendly species. After researching local pollinator issues, they met with the County Extension Director to discuss developing short videos for county buildings. In consultation with a Florida Friendly Landscape Specialist, they learned about the significance of trees in supporting pollinators. They also wrote a persuasive letter to the County Extension Office to secure permission for their garden on its grounds. Lastly, they delivered educational speeches about pollination in Florida, including one presented to Florida legislators at the 4-H Day at the Capital event in Tallahassee, FL.

    Students from Sarasota CAPE   Students from Sarasota CAPE

    Baldwin County, AL

    A group of five high school students from the Daphne High School Environmental Club, aged 16-19, from Baldwin County, Alabama, took up the mission to combat herbicide runoff into the Mobile Bay. After listening and questioning members of the Municipality of Baldwin County and a Mobile Bay conservation agent, they realized there was no regulated control in the application of herbicide for the community residents. The unregulated herbicides resulted in runoff around the cities of Daphne and Fairhope, ultimately finding their way into the Mobile Bay and negatively affecting the marine life and ecosystem. Through their conversations with their CAPE partners, the youth learned that the lack of public education on the effects of herbicide runoff is one of the main factors that contribute to this problem. To address this problem, they created an informational video using scientific data as support, tested organic herbicides, and presented their project by tabling at the Fairhope Yacht Club and speaking with the Daphne High School Media Club. They shared their video with Alabama Watershed Conservation and environmental science teachers in their school district to spread the word about the impacts of herbicide runoff.

    CAPE students taking photos outside   Students from Baldwin County CAPE   Baldwin County CAPE project

    Walton County, FL

    A Teen Challenge Personal And Leadership Development group, comprising individuals aged 12-18 in Walton County, FL, took on the task of enhancing local wildlife habitat by requesting that landowners install wood duck nest boxes. As they started the CAPE program, this group aspired to create a positive impact on the well-being of bird species in their community. After speaking with their Forestry and Natural Resources agent, they discovered the struggles faced by wood ducks, once near extinction but now returning to the region. They then decided to focus their efforts on a local lake that served as a habitat for numerous wood ducks and was a prominent feature in their community.
    The group decided to ask landowners to build and install a wood duck box on their property to improve wood duck populations. To accomplish this, they devised a three-part project that effectively combined the CAPE process with hands-on service. First, they created an educational presentation on how to build a wood duck box and why it is important to protect the wood duck habitat and sent it to be featured on their county website. Next, they surveyed people to identify property owners who had suitable land and gauged their willingness to install a wood duck box. Lastly, they composed a letter to Duck Unlimited, seeking support for their endeavor, spreading the word about their project to locals, and sharing the survey they created.

    Members of CAPE Walton County   A Walton County CAPE project

    Tallahassee, FL

    A 4-H group of 9 youth in Tallahassee, FL, ages 11-15, asked their local Department of Transportation and the neighborhood watch to improve safety along local bike paths. They started by identifying their neighborhood as the community they wanted to work in and explored several issues they were interested in. They ultimately decided since they had an emotional connection to the bike paths they rode on frequently, they chose to focus on this issue. To gain a better understanding of the issue, they invited an EMT to share insights on the injuries sustained by bikers and hikers on the existing trails, thereby solidifying the urgent need for improved safety measures. With their issue defined, they got to work surveying the paths. Their findings revealed several deficiencies: inadequate signage, lack of proper railings on bridges crossing creeks, and poor marking near traffic zones. With this data, they wrote persuasive letters to the local Department of Transportation and the neighborhood watch. They included mock-accident photos depicting the potential accidents and hazards that could occur on dangerous bike paths. Since speaking out about this issue, a “Child at Play” sign was made more visible around the bike paths. Additionally, a local homeschool group heard about the project and hosted a bike safety day where they issued safety equipment to the youth in the area.

    A bicycle on an unkept and muddy forest biking path


    A Rotary Interact Service Club of 18 youths ages 13-18 developed a community education program on watershed pollution and presented their cause to county-based decision-makers. After exploring environmental concerns in their neighborhoods and schools over two weeks, the group agreed that watershed pollution was a prominent issue requiring attention county-wide. To strengthen their understanding of the issue, they spoke with a local environmental education non-profit, the local planning agency, and a representative from the local waste management division about watershed pollution, practices, and current county strategies for education on the topic. Armed with this knowledge, they created a community education project by preparing display boards, games, and various props to help them engage with and educate the community. They reached out to decision-makers in the county’s Waste Management and Planning Departments asking them to help inform the public about runoff and pollution in our watersheds. The pitch was so effective that representatives from both groups agreed to come to help educate the public at a community-wide Naturefest event attended by 392 families.

    Amy's CAPE project

    Alachua County, FL

    Alachua County 4-H CAPE members spoke at a City Commission meeting and joined a community coalition to save four oak trees that were slated to be cut down. When they embarked on their CAPE project two years earlier, the group observed a discouraging trend in their community: Gainesville, once renowned for its abundant urban forest, was gradually losing its valuable shade trees to small crape myrtle replacements. sight. With this issue in mind, they began documenting areas that were losing trees and speaking with local tree experts to understand what exactly was happening. They learned that the municipal code regarding tree removal and replacement was being followed, but wasn’t sufficient to protect the tree canopy. The group members researched their local government codes and explored alternative interpretations which they discussed with the Tree Advisory Board and presented to the City Commissioners.
    When the city decided removing the downtown oak trees was the best solution to buckled sidewalks and wheelchair access problems, the group spoke to city commissioners and others. After initially deciding to keep three trees and remove one, the community rallied to point out that the tree could be saved if the sidewalk was moved. The city commissioners eventually recanted and agreed to move the sidewalk to keep the live oak tree! With the success of saving the oak trees behind them, the group decided their next step would be to meet with the Mayor and individual city commissioners to shore up the future of tree preservation in Gainesville. In the meantime, the CAPE members have tabled and presented their project at the Alachua County Climate Fair and other local events.

    Alachua County CAPE project   CAPE Alachua County Project

    Students from Alachua County CAPE   Students from Alachua County CAPE

    St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

    A Climate Action Club in St. Croix, USVI is made up of 10 passionate youths who have begun their journey working with food security in their community. Before even starting the CAPE program, they had to appeal to decision-makers at their school to allow their club to meet for a more extended period. With one success under their belt, they met with a local community organizer and decided on food security as the issue they would like to focus their project around during the next school year.

    A project from St. Croix CAPE   Students and classroom from CAPE St. Croix


  • How are we evaluating CAPE?

    We have developed a pre- and a post-assessment survey to evaluate whether CAPE leads to changes in the following outcomes:

    • Civic Literacy and Governance Skills: Civic literacy is the knowledge of how to actively participate and contribute to change in your community. Governance is the process by which decisions are made in a community or organization.
    • Self-efficacy: Self-efficacy refers to an individual’s belief in how well they are able to do something. The best way for youth to develop self-efficacy and develop problem solving skills is to work on a problem.
    • Collective Efficacy: Collective efficacy is the shared belief that a group can successfully organize themselves and carry out a project. It involves a sense that the perceived goal may not be reasonable for an individual to complete alone, but the individuals can combine and coordinate skills to work together to accomplish the goals.

    Our evaluation includes a self-assessment of the skills that have been gained from engaging in CAPE and a scenario-based quiz. After you log in to access the CAPE materials, you can find and download the evaluation tools.


  • How was CAPE developed?

    CAPE was designed by a co-development team from the Florida Cooperative Extension Service and the UF School of Forest, Fisheries, and Geomatics Sciences. Funding for this effort came from the North American Association for Environmental Education’s (NAAEE) environmental education training agreement with the U.S.E.P.A.’s Office of Environmental Education. Beginning in 2020 with a needs assessment of Florida 4-H leaders, agents, youth, and experts, the team worked with the Earth Force process to select key activities to guide and empower groups to conducting community action projects. As the writing team created and revised activities, the implementation team tried them out with their youth clubs and councils. Regular feedback and a reflective retreat helped the team shorten and consolidate the process into eight meetings, each with an icebreaker, activities, reflection, and a mission to be completed before the next meeting. Youth leaders were encouraged to assist the club leaders through the process. In 2022 the revised CAPE Leader Guide was distributed to club leaders and 4-H agents to pilot test. Their experiences, feedback, and suggestions were incorporated into the current CAPE Leader Guide, Youth Project Book, and this website. To find out who contributed to the founding of this program, see the "Who helped create CAPE?" drop down.

  • Developing the CAPE Evaluation

    The development of the CAPE program included the evolution of the CAPE evaluation. We originally planned to use scales to obtain youth self-reports of their skills and efficacy, as well as use scenarios to ascertain their competence in civic processes. We learned that youth have a strong sense of their skills, so strong it made it unlikely that we could measure any positive shifts in their skills due to a program. We also learned that there are many reasonable responses to scenarios. In our pilot year, we are using reflection statements, youth videos, leader interviews, and monthly calls to supplement the pre- and post- assessment surveys to paint a picture of what youth gain from the CAPE process. We also developed an evaluation advisory group and used their advice to improve some of the questions in our evaluation.

  • Who helped create CAPE?

    We thank everyone on the co-development team, the pilot testing team, advisors, and reviewers who have contributed to this program.


    • Martha Monroe, Professor and Extension Specialist
    • Gabby Salazar, Extension Program Staff
    • Ailee Odom, Graduate Student
    • Gabriela Sullivan, Program Assistant
    • Jessica Ireland, Program Coordinator


    • Sarah Davis, UF/IFAS, Sarasota County
    • Beth Kerr, UF/IFAS, Hamilton County
    • Grace Carter, UF/IFAS, Duval County
    • Kimberly Davis, FAMU
    • Sarah Wolking, Alachua County Volunteer Leader
    • Meryl Klein, Alachua County Volunteer Leader Pilot


    • Robin Baumgartner, Boise ID
    • Nicole Crawson, DeFuniak Springs FL
    • Linda Crews, Century FL
    • Sarah Davis, Sarasota FL
    • Carmen Flammini, Mobile AL
    • Sabrina Hayes, Tallahassee FL
    • Pam Kerley, Sanford NC
    • Amy Lang, Bel Alton MD
    • Christina Magoolaghan, Hollywood FL
    • Lisa Ristuccia, Tucson AR
    • Olivia Walton, St. Croix, USVI
    • Sarah Wolking, Micanopy FL


    • Jenna Hoover


    • Alyssa McConkey
    • Vince Meldrum
    • Kate Navin
    • Jackie Stallard
    • Elena Takaki
    • Julia Beck


    • Alison Bowers
    • Marc Stern
    • Kathryn Stevenson
    • Kelsey Tayne
    • Libby McCann
    • Joe Heimlich
    • Megan Ennes

Funding and Partners

  • Who funded the CAPE program?

    This program was developed as part of the ee360+ program of the North American Association for Environmental Education, funded by the U.S.E.P.A. through grant #P0230853, the Cottonwood Foundation, and the University of Florida’s School of Forest, Fisheries, and Geomatics Sciences. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Education funds to NAAEE is through Assistance Agreement No. 84019001. This program has not been formally reviewed by EPA. The views expressed in this website are solely those of the North American Association for Environmental Education and the authors and EPA does not endorse any products or commercial services mentioned here.

    The University of Florida’s School of Forest, Fisheries, and Geomatics Sciences has a strong tradition of developing award-winning environmental education and Extension programs to prepare learners to engage in, manage, and protect their environment through individual actions and community engagement.


  • Partners

    The North American Association for Environmental Education is the professional home for environmental educators. It promotes excellence in environmental education throughout North America by strengthening the field and increasing the efficacy of the profession. NAAEE’s mission is to use the power of education to advance environmental literacy and civic engagement to create a more equitable and sustainable future.

    4-H is the youth organization of the Cooperative Extension Service at land-grant universities across the U.S. Their mission is to give all young people access to opportunity and develop youth skills. Community service is one of the core principles of 4-H, which empowers youth with the skills to lead for a lifetime.

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