It was a chilly March morning in Washington D.C.
I was sitting in a small circle with fellow World Wildlife Fund activists at WWF's headquarters in our nation’s capitol city. We were preparing for the experience ahead of us the next day, WWF's Annual Lobby Day. Over 100 WWF activists from around the country were headed to Capitol Hill to speak to Congress about the importance of funding international conservation programs.
During our training sessions, we learned that it's helpful to begin our meetings with congressional offices with a personal story.
A WWF team leader asked us: "What was your first memory of nature?"
It was a great question because with all of the excitement before heading to Capitol Hill, it allowed me to take a moment of personal reflection and reminded me why I was there to begin with.
I'm the son of a Sicilian immigrant who grew up on the south side of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. At 9 years old I planted a pine tree in my family's front yard. At that time, the local DNR was providing thousands of free tree seedlings to fourth-graders across the state to teach them about the importance of trees in our environment. I happily took my seedling home from school and planted it in front of my home. My own tree. My personal contribution to something larger than myself.
When my family moved away a few years later, I had a hard time leaving everything I had ever known—most of all my tree. My uncle John—an accomplished conservationist, astronomer, mariner, ornithologist, volunteer firefighter—told me assuredly, "Remember that our society grows great when people like you plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit under." Sometimes we won't always see the fruits of our labor. Sometimes simply planting the seed for the future is a noble act in and of itself.
Equipped with my personal story, I was ready to take on Capitol Hill the following day.
As I shared the story of my tree in our meetings with congressional offices, the meetings began to feel less like presentations and more like meaningful conversations. The congressional staff was polite, friendly, engaged, and welcoming. They listened to our stories, asked us questions about our work and passions, and diligently took notes to report back to our representatives.
Walking the halls of Congress, I was overcome with feelings of both fulfillment and reverence. To be part of a group of passionate and engaged citizen activists coming to the seat of our nation's government to make our voices heard was empowering.
Later that spring my mom and I took a trip to Milwaukee and drove past our old house. And much to my delight, my tree was alive and thriving, having grown to an impressive 25 feet tall.
It was then that I fully understood that I've been planting seeds my entire life. At age 9 they were literal trees, and now as an adult, those seeds are impactful ideas planted within the very halls of my country's government alongside WWF. And I'm hopeful about what those ideas will blossom into one day.