Nonprofits are: EMPOWERING

This post is one in a series exploring each of the seven attributes – being productive, empowering, effective, enriching, reliable, responsive, and caring – revealed in the Listening Post’s Nonprofit Values Survey in detail. Please visit the Nonprofit Values overview page to browse our other items from this initiative, including the full report, blog posts, and outreach materials, and follow us on Twitter or Facebook to join the conversation.
For this post, we asked Listening Post Organization and survey respondent Monterey Bay Aquarium to tell us about how their organization works to empower members of their community. This post focuses on two educational programs – Teen Conservation Leaders (TCLs) and Watsonville Area Teens Conserving Habitats (W.A.T.C.H.), and examines the ways in which these programs empower their participants. This post was a collaborative effort between Tritia Moneypenny, TCL Program Lead, and Sonya Sankaran, WATCH Program Lead, and TCL and WATCH alumni Bruny Mora, Sierra Garcia, Isabel Jimenez, and Jonathan Rincon.


The mission of Monterey Bay Aquarium is to inspire conservation of the oceans. For high school students that get involved in our programs, inspiration is just the start. They develop a personal connection to the ocean, increase their ocean literacy, become confident in their ability to make informed decisions regarding environmental issues, and are empowered to act on behalf of the world’s oceans.
Aquarium programs for teens and tweens are based on recognized youth development principles and leadership skills within an ocean science context. Youth from diverse ethnicities and backgrounds have age-appropriate opportunities to learn and practice skills, mentor other program participants (including teachers), share their experiences with their families, peers and communities, and contribute to research and conservation activities. Alumni of our youth programs are increasingly being hired as Aquarium staff and we have established a career ladder of opportunity as a result.

Teen Conservation Leaders alumna Sierra Garcia speaks with young visitors to Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Teen Conservation Leaders
The Teen Conservation Leaders (TCL) program offers high school students an opportunity to progressively develop new skills, confidence, and leadership capacity. They begin in the summer by attending a two-week training session and then select one or more “tracks” for their service learning experience. Each student typically volunteers over 100 hours during the summer and many continue their service throughout the school year and throughout their high school careers.
Here’s what Sierra Garcia, TCL alumna, had to say about her Aquarium experiences:
“It’s not easy to feel dignified when wearing an inflated drysuit, wielding a hermit crab puppet, or explaining hermaphrodite sea slugs to an ogling family. Yet despite, or perhaps because of, these detours, I have always felt the utmost excitement and honor as a volunteer for the Monterey Bay Aquarium. My first position was Official Explorer, a yearlong youth ambassador attending public events. After that, my career exploded in various directions as I snapped at every opportunity the aquarium offered, greedily stuffing myself past gluttony with five distinct roles and nearly 600 volunteer hours. My passion for marine biology and ocean conservation was insatiable. More delectable than anything else were the human friendships I built there, the sumptuous realization that there were other people who felt and acted as I did, who could see me strutting in a shrimp suit or caressing a sea cucumber and understand exactly why I feel that my position was the most dignified and enviable in existence.”

Watsonville Area Teens Conserving Habitats
The Watsonville Area Teens Conserving Habitats (WATCH) program enables high school students to develop an in-depth understanding of their local environment and its connection to the ocean. They begin with a two-week field experience and continue their involvement throughout the school year by enrolling in the WATCH Environmental Science course at their school and completing a student-designed field research project.
WATCH is not only successful as an environmental program, with nearly all alumni stating that it had influenced their relationship with nature and their behaviors toward it, WATCH is also a successful teen development program, with about half of the alumni stating that the biggest impact was personal growth, skills development and self-confidence.
In an anonymous evaluation, one 2012 WATCH alumnus articulately summed up the effect that participating in the program had on them: “WATCH has really been the catalyst to all of my accomplishments. It gave me the confidence that has taken me places after WATCH. At a very crucial point in my life, the program showed me that you can really do anything no matter the obstacles and fears you may have. That is why I was able to accomplish so much in my high school career and the reason why I’m so solid in college now with my career goals, semi-figured out. Well at least more than most people since I know what I love doing and what I don’t. It’s like if the program nurtured me and taught me how to fly so that when the day came that I had to jump off the tree, I was able to fly with confidence. I will always be grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this program and thankful for all that it has given me.”

Meet Bruny Mora, WATCH and TCL alumus:


Meet Isabel Jimenez, WATCH alumna:


Meet Jonathan Rincon, WATCH alumnus:


Very special thanks to Tritia Moneypenny, TCL Program Lead, and Sonya Sankaran, WATCH Program Lead, who design and provide experiences that empower young people to act on behalf of the ocean and were instrumental in creating this blog. Thanks also to our TCL and WATCH alumni, Bruny Mora, Sierra Garcia, Isabel Jimenez, and Jonathan Rincon, whose dedication and commitment serve as an inspiration to all of us at Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Chelsea Newhouse

View posts by Chelsea Newhouse
Chelsea Newhouse served as the Center's Communications Manager and managed the Nonprofit Economic Data and Philanthropication thru Privatization Projects. Prior to joining the Center in 2008, she worked for the Johns Hopkins University Department of Molecular Biology & Genetics, the Baltimore Sun, and as a community organizer for Clean Water Action and the Democratic National Committee. She holds a degree in Philosophy from the University of Virginia. Following the Center's closing, Chelsea now serves as Project Manager at the East-West Management Institute, where she continues to work on the Philanthropication thru Privatization Project and other civil society development initiatives around the world. Chelsea can be reached at