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Earth Team co-founder Sheilah Fish, of Moraga, has worked to support environmental issues on a volunteer basis for 20 years. We decided to fill a need that was worth being filled, Fish says of Earth Team. (ARIC CRABB/STAFF )

Sheilah Fish's success in building a network of East Bay teenagers who see themselves as stewards of Planet Earth probably has something to do with her background as a marriage and family therapist.

When someone approaches her with an idea involving her Berkeley-based Earth Team network, Fish's catch phrase is a welcoming "Tell me more."

That's colleague Lana Husser's insight into the Moraga resident's success as co-founder of the Contra Costa Earth Day Festival in 1990 and, perhaps more notably, Earth Team, a student-centered program that teaches youngsters about environmental issues.

When Husser, producer of Earth Team's monthly, 30-minute "The Green Screen" television show first approached Fish with her idea about doing a show produced by and starring middle school and high school students, Fish's response was an immediate "Tell me more."

"She's always open to new ideas," Husser said. "She then went out right away and started finding the funding to support the project."

Four years and 30 shows later, "The Green Screen" has involved dozens of young people, has its own YouTube channel and airs on 11 Bay Area TV stations.

Fish, who was once Earth Team's president and remains on its board, started working for environmental causes 20 years ago. With help from friends and the city of Concord, she cofounded the Contra Costa Earth Day Festival. In its first year, 1990, it attracted more than 2,000 people.

Eight years later, 20,000 people packed into the then-Concord Pavilion to for an Earth Day celebration designed by Fish and her cohorts.

Fish said she organized the celebrations because she thought environmental issues weren't getting enough attention in Contra Costa County.

"I thought it was important to draw in schools and involve families," she said.

Yet, championing the environment through successful festivals wasn't enough.

In Berkeley, Fish and friend Cindy Spring founded Earth Team. Their vision was to create a network of teachers, volunteers and students who would learn about environmental issues through both printed material and hands-on stewardship activities. It came about, Fish said, because teachers were interested in providing lessons about environmental issues but didn't have the necessary resources or support.

"We decided to fill a need that was worth being filled," Fish said. "We provide a number of projects that are primarily not done by anybody else."

What started in Contra Costa with a handful of schools has grown into a 60-plus school network of young people and educators working together. Many of the schools are in low-income districts and several participate in three restoration events. The events — on Coastal Cleanup Day, Cesar Chavez Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day — focus on local watershed needs. Students go to local creeks and culverts and help restore lost biodiversity by removing non-native plants, performing erosion control and creek and shoreline cleanup.

Students and educators also share their views on environmental issues through "The Green Screen" and The Green News, an online news service and occasional newsletter.

Alex Ortiz, of Richmond, does a little bit of everything for "The Green Screen," including camera work, directing, editing and acting. The 17-year-old Pinole Valley High School student said he's always been interested in the environment. When a teacher told him about "The Green Screen" four years ago, he jumped at the chance to participate.

"I think the program is great," he said. "It's really educational environmentally and media-wise. It really shows you how to publicize your own work and it's taught me a lot."

Ortiz has met with Fish several times and said he appreciates her efforts with students.

"Without her, not many teens would learn about environmental issues in their communities," Ortiz said.

For all the work Fish has done, including fundraising, she has never drawn a salary. It is volunteer work that comes from her heart and her passion for improving the Earth, she said.

"In truth, it's just always been there in me," she said.

Sheilah Fish
  • RESIDENCE: Moraga
  • Occupation: Retired marriage and family therapist. Board member and co-founder of the Berkeley-based Earth Team.
  • Quote: "My parents were very dedicated to helping others, giving back to the community. My mother died when I was 19 and I remember saying to myself 'What you did was good and will live on in me.' "

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