FORT POLK, La. -- Recycling can be hard work because it involves more than simply throwing the can away. But, doing the right thing isn't always simple. Learning not to take the easy way out is something Fort Polk's Child, Youth and School Services programs concentrate on teaching through an educational program called Character Counts. This approach focuses on six ethical values: Trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.

So when Earth Day rolled around this year on April 22, it was the perfect opportunity for CYSS middle school and teen programs to discuss the citizenship pillar, which involves making a child's school and community better by doing things like being a good neighbor, obeying laws and rules, protecting the environment and more.

The Character Counts discussions are called "buzz sessions." It was one of these buzz sessions that led to the idea for a recycling program, said Lauren Northrup, child and youth program assistant.
Northrup said the kids already had some awareness of environmental problems, but not the extent of the damage already done to the environment. "Most people don't realize how bad it is and are unsure about what they can and can't recycle," said Northrup.

The kids wanted to help, she said. "They feel there isn't a lot they can do, but even small things can make a big difference. So asking them to bring in their plastic bags or anything they can recycle helps with the whole recycling effort. They feel like they're helping their world," said Northrup.

Michayla Cluette, 13, is a member of the middle school and teen program. "I want to help future generations. If we all recycled, our world wouldn't be so polluted," she said.
Throughout the summer, people have helped by dropping off plastic bags at Siegfried Youth Center. Once enough bags are collected, kids take the bags to the Wal-Mart recycling bins.

In addition to recycling plastic bags, the middle school and teen programs collect aluminum tabs from soda cans. "Those small tabs actually contain more aluminum than the whole can," said Northrup.

The recycling program is catching on, said Northrup. "They are learning that if they don't recycle those plastic bags, they are going to be looking at them 75 years from now," said Northrup.

Another willing participant in the recycling program is Christian Baer, 12. He said working to make the earth better is something everyone should do. That's why he encourages his friends to recycle. "I don't want pollution to increase any more because it will just mess up everything," said Baer.
Northrup said the plastic bags and tabs are just the beginning. "We are actually trying to branch out to other things like water bottles, cardboard and papers," said Nothrup.