Avalon Theisen is the founder of Conserve It Forward, an environmental education organization based in Florida. She was recently in Paris for the COP 21 conference on climate change, has visited the White House to speak about environmental issues, given a TEDx Talk, and has won several awards for her work, including the Florida Achievement Award from the Florida Commission on the Status of Women in 2014. Theisen is a vegan who is passionate about educating people about the connection between environmental issues and animal rights. She is a volunteer for Vegan Outreach and, as part of her outreach and advocacy work, she is also developing an app for smartphones that will help people plan plant-based meals. Oh, and did we mention that Theisen is just 15 years old? We are in awe of her energy and passion for making a difference!
Theisen is home-schooled and this has provided her with many unique learning opportunities. She has a strong connection with nature, and a lot of her education takes place outdoors. As a result, Theisen knows a considerable amount about the flora and fauna of her home state of Florida. For example, the photo shoot for this feature story took place at Park Lake in Tampa Bay, and during that meeting Theisen demonstrated both her comfort with and her exceptional knowledge of the local ecosystem, stopping to provide interesting tidbits of information about the plants and animals we encountered—“Spanish moss is neither Spanish, nor moss,” she was quick to point out. While engaged in the conversation, she would also frequently crouch down to point out and admire native mosses growing amidst the ground cover, or look skyward to listen intently to the calls of local birds.
Much of Theisen’s learning is also done “on the road,” as she travels frequently with her family. These trips are planned around opportunities for service and education, and in the coming months she will be visiting Aruba, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Japan. In addition to furthering her learning, Theisen is dedicated to ensuring that she is helping out in local communities when she travels—“I clocked about 370 hours of service in 2014,” she proudly announces.
Theisen is very motivated and much of her work is self-guided. “She does a lot of self-teaching. Avalon has just asked for six new psychology books,” her mom Deborah quips with a smile. Theisen added, from the back seat of the car while we drove through the Lake Park that morning, “I have a passion for linguistics. I love Japanese culture and I’ve just started learning the language. I know a bit of Latin as well.” She recently read Change of Heart by Nick Cooney and has since developed a strong interest in psychology, specifically social psychology and how this can assist advocacy groups in becoming more effective at conveying their messages.
Theisen is an avid artist, and creates “Zentangles” as part of her education and outreach efforts. Each of these paintings has information about wildlife and conservation on the back and the overall piece is designed to be multi-purpose – it can be used as stationary or framed as a piece of artwork.
Theisen was recently named Humane Student of the Year by Animalearn, a well-deserved honour. This is one of several awards that Theisen has received in recent years, but this one holds special significance as she greatly admires the humane education work that Animalearn does and, in fact, has nominated the Director of this organization, Nicole Green, to be featured in the Unbound Project. (Theisen also nominated Kerryn Vaughan, author of, Magnificent Kids, a book celebrating the activism and engagement of many young people, including Theisen.)
Many who have worked with Theisen have remarked on her incredible focus and drive to make the world a better place. She doesn’t seek out the spotlight, but she has an incredible confidence when it comes to speaking about her work. She is hopeful and sees that things are starting to change in important ways. For example, while she was in Paris for the COP21 climate change conference, she noted that “it was incredible how many ordinary people at the event spoke specifically about how our food choices are affecting the natural world, and how starting to eat plant based can dramatically reduce our carbon footprint.” This connection between the food we consume and the state of the environment is one that continues to drive Theisen’s work. She feels that this is an important topic because it is one that is relevant to everybody—as she points out, “we have the chance to make change every time we eat, and fortunately, most of us have several opportunities to do this each day.”
Theisen’s work is so impressive that it is easy to forget that she is a teenager. However, when you talk with her, there are moments that you are quickly reminded of her youthful enthusiasm. For example, she lights up when remembering the elegant opulence of the White House, a location she visited as part of a delegation of youth participating in a discussion on climate change in 2015.
When asked what advice she has for young people who want to help make a difference in the world, Theisen had this advice:
Find something you care about deeply, and do everything you can for it. Encourage others to do small acts so that we can all help. In this way, all of our small roles add up to making big change for the world as a whole.
She is certainly living by these words and is an inspiration to so many!