“Don’t Disempower Yourself.”


By Liz Putnam, SCA founding president & Jaime Matyas, president & CEO


Emails don’t ordinarily stop me in my tracks but recently one did: a message from the Clinton Foundation that highlighted a comment from President Bill Clinton in response to this question from a student at UC Berkeley:

“What would you tell your 20-year-old self that many of us in the audience can also use in our lives?”

The president’s response – “never disempower yourself” – really struck a bell with me. When, with the assistance and support of so many allies, I was starting SCA as a new college graduate nearly 60 years ago, there were so many instances where it would have been easy to pack it all in. Reaching agreement on park projects, securing the necessary funding…simply being heard as a young woman in the antiquated culture of the mid-1950s.

But I’ve always believed that if something needed to be done, then do it. And our parks needed help back then – as they do now – so I was not going to sit around and watch them fall further into decay when I knew that young people could be the solution.

As I am invited to speak to students today, I invariably encourage them to go for their dreams because one never knows where they will lead. Thus I applaud President Clinton’s advice and urge you and everyone else who reads this to follow suit. SCA’s 80,000+ alumni are living proof of the power of positive action, and ample evidence that dreams do come true.


I’m with you, Liz, and increasingly admire your vision and spirit, which continues to fuel SCA to this day. You knew, early on, the importance of empowering youth to plan, act and lead. And you knew the great outdoors was the best venue for bringing out the greatness in America’s young people.

SCA’s decades-long record of protecting and restoring our natural resources is well documented, but now we are also able to verify SCA’s impact on the people in our programs. These unique hands-on experiences trigger a process that not only heightens participants’ sense of connection and responsibility to nature, but also advance individual growth in a way that fosters optimal advancement.

This isn’t just SCA saying this – studies by the Search Institute show our members experience significant gains in their ability to work with and lead others, express their ideas, consider alternative perspectives, work as part of a team, and engage others to reach a common goal. These critical life skills enable SCA members to become even more effective and influential leaders in their schools, communities and careers.

Liz set out to strengthen our public lands and she has certainly succeeded. Yet she also strengthened generations of youth by conceiving of these remarkably transformative outdoor experiences when she was 20 years old, the same age as that UC Berkeley student.

I invite SCA alumni to share their own thoughts of how SCA impacted their lives. Post your stories to SCA’s Facebook page or our Alumni Facebook group.

Student Conservation Association