Since Earth’s Birthday Project’s founding in 1989, more than 15 million children have participated in butterfly and sunflower activities, as well as rainforest and river conservation.
Cliff Ross became an Earthologist after receiving his degrees and certifications from the University of California, Berkeley. Cliff has a passion for creating stories which ignite the imagination of young children towards care and concern for the planet. In 1988, as the twentieth anniversary of Earth Day approached, Cliff Ross was teaching middle school in New York City. Ross, his wife Lisa Werenko and his brother Tom Ross had just published their first environmental children’s book, It Zwibble, the Star-touched Dinosaur, through Scholastic. It seemed to them that Earth Day might be more effective if it could be a celebration; if it could become a day not only for activists but also for children.
They thought, “Why not give the Earth a birthday party?”
Inspired by the vision of a birthday party for the earth, they invited children from across NYC to celebrate the first Earth’s Birthday on the Great Lawn of Central Park. The event was a success with the help of the Parks Commission, donors and many volunteers.
The first year’s events “launched” the Earth’s Birthday Project as a nonprofit organization. Several key components of the first celebration have become hallmarks of Earth’s Birthday Project’s educational activities through the years:
Butterflies – They gave 4,000 cups of painted lady butterfly caterpillars to Head Start classrooms. Carolina Biological Supply donated the caterpillars. After observing the metamorphosis of caterpillars into butterflies, the children released the beautiful, delicate butterflies on Earth Day.
Sunflower seeds – children planted seeds in their classrooms and took the seedlings home to enjoy in pots or gardens until they bloomed and covered the earth with flowers.
Conservation – Inspired by the Children’s Rainforest in Costa Rica, initiated by students at Fagervick School in Sweden, Ross’s eighth-grade class at Packer Collegiate Institute enrolled children across NYC to collect $150,000 to purchase threatened rainforest land in Latin America. The children donated the funds to The Nature Conservancy, an international conservation organization.
Earth Birthday Project still puts butterflies in children’s hands, through programs in schools and individually to families. The organization empowers children to conserve rainforests and rivers, and to learn about the environment as part of their school science curriculum.
The core of the earth’s birthday celebration is summed up in the Earth’s Birthday Pledge; the same pledge that has been recited by millions of children.
No job is too big
No action too small
For the care of the earth
Is the task of us all.