|Beach Teen's Millennial Dream Makes Her 1 in 2000
by Patricia Kirby
Virginia Vogt, center in white T-shirt, joins a group of teens getting wet and learning about wetlands at the Academy of Natural Sciences camp at Jefferson Patterson Park.
"Winning is not about me but about my issue. It made me feel that people do care about the wetlands, and that I'm not the only one," said Virginia Vogt. The Calvert County 14-year-old joined 1,999 other 8- to 15-year-olds around the world as a certified Millennium Dreamer. On opening the message from contest sponsors McDonald's and the Walt Disney Co., naming her a winner, Virginia screamed with delight.
Like the other winners, she'd written a 150-word essay describing a contribution she'd made to her community. Virginia's issue was Chesapeake Beach's controversy over swapping land for Kellam Ball Field. The field is officially a wetland, and many citizens feared a slippery slope from ball field to parking lot for the next-door Chesapeake Beach Waterpark.
Nominating Virginia as a Millennium Dreamer, her aunt, Sheila Hunt, wrote:
"Virginia has made all of us proud by caring about an area and shouting about it when all the rest of us did not even know about it. She said, quoting Joni Mitchell, 'Please don't pave over paradise to put up a parking lot.' And she continued to stand up and say, even while being booed, that she represented the young people of the town."
Virginia, who's been involved in ecological activities for years, bumped into her winning issue. "I got a flyer at 7pm to come to a meeting about the ball field that same evening," she said. "So I went with some friends. We were the youngest ones there. We asked questions, and that gave us more insight."
Despite promises that paving would never occur, the teens were suspicious. They thought some publicity might help. Virginia organized a petition drive at her school, Northern High. It was this petition, she thinks, that tipped the judges' vote in her favor, because she and her friends got "250 kids' signatures." First, of course, they asked the principal's permission. He agreed as long as the students understood what they were signing and things "didn't get out of control."
Virginia's campaign may have helped prevent the land swap, and, she hopes, protected wetlands.
"To me," Virginia explains, "the wetlands are the most important thing I have ever worked on." Ever has some meaning in Virginia's young life. She has volunteered on at least three local projects. At Jefferson-Patterson Park, she helped excavate "slave quarters in one area, a settlement in another." She's also pitched in at Calvert Marine Museum and at the Student Experiences in the Natural Environment summer camp program at the Academy of Natural Sciences Estuarine Research Center.
Virginia says she's always wanted to become a marine biologist. That interest goes back to a year-long program during grade school that introduced kids to their Bayfront community by first-hand visits to people and places. When the class went to the wetlands behind the school, Virginia was "hooked."
The Chesapeake Beach teen learned about the Millennium Dreamer contest on the Disney Channel. Winners and a parent were invited to a Global Children's Summit at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. There, the young Millennium Dreamers Ambassadors - including 18 other Maryland teens - shared their stories with each other and the world. Highlights included an interactive symposium on "The Power of One," moderated by ABC-TV News anchor Jack Ford and hearing inspirational speakers such as astronaut Sally Ride and actors Christopher Reeve and LeVar Burton talking about how one person can make a difference. Ambassador Virginia, accompanied by dad Eric, returned from the summit with stories aplenty to share with the rest of the family: mom Roseanna, three other sisters and a brother.
Reflecting on being chosen as a Millennium Dreamer, Virginia said, "I've been very opinionated all my life, and when I find something I believe in, I get involved." And what would she say about her issue of wetlands if she could reach everyone in Chesapeake Country?
"Because you live on the shore, just be extra careful what you do in your everyday life. A lot of people around here eat crabs and oysters, for instance. It doesn't really take a lot to harm the environment. Whatever you do will have an impact on the Bay and on your life."