When you think of Rotary International, adult men and women come to mind.

Set that stereotype aside, because the service organization has a budding youth membership from elementary school right through to university.

Here in Cochrane, the Rotarian movement includes youth clubs based out of Cochrane High (Interact) and Glenbow Elementary School (EarlyAct).

Youth organizations who passionately seek out ways to improve the health of our planet were equally represented in the series of TEDx-style talks given during the one-day Southern Alberta conference hosted by the Cochrane Rotary Club on May 14.

Conference chair Karen Greene says the youth is inspiring to the older generation.

"This conference is about supporting the environment, so all these young adults coming and educating us and showing us that they're the future is amazing, and it's really important for Rotarians."

Among them were the Zero Heroes, a six-member sustainability club from Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Academy of Canmore. They made a presentation on the CO2 EASY app they have created as a tool to monitor the carbon footprint of attending events and offer ways to offset them.

"So far, we've created a coded prototype that we presented at iGen 2021. We've made a business model canvas and then we also tried pitching the idea in the Tech Futures Challenge as well as iGEM," explains club member Alison Stanley.

The core of the team is graduating high school this year and Stanley says they hope to continue working on the app while attending university.

She says making a presentation at the Rotary conference provided them feedback on whether people believed this would be a viable idea. 

Cochranite Jade Janzen, 16, who founded Lives with Less Plastics in 2018, was also among the guest speakers. She spoke on practical steps we can take to reduce consumption and environmental footprint.

Several members were present from the Western Canada High School Interact Club, designed by Rotary for youth ages 12-18.

Club member Eve Pigat, a grade 11 student, says they volunteer and fundraise in their community. Right now, their major initiative is Interact Against Poverty. They're making custom enamel pins to raise money for Be The Change YYC to help provide relief to those experiencing homelessness.

Pigat has been an Interact member for three years and it was her first chance to enjoy an in-person conference. It's been a valuable experience.

"I wasn't aware of how far the Rotary reach was, and I'm really glad I started to get involved in Rotary because there are so many opportunities here."

A quick tour through the foyer of the conference confirms the range of causes supported by Rotarians. It has seven pillars of service, supporting the environment being just one.

Being able to once again hear, see and talk about the projects in person was appreciated, says Chair Greene.

"Fellowship is probably the most important thing about this conference," she says. "We're all going to learn about the environment but it's so nice to get back together with people that we haven't seen for a long time, and it's great to meet new friends and be in the room with so much energy."

This was the first in-person conference of Rotary Clubs in Southern Alberta in three years, and Cochrane was fortunate to be named its host. Around 300 people came, and several others attended remotely.

District 5360 covers 75 clubs in central and southern Alberta, plus Kindersley, SK., and includes Rotary, Rotaract, Interact, and EarlyAct clubs.