Dolores Perales is the inaugural winner of the Young Climate Leader Award, given by the Michigan Climate Action Network. She is pursuing a dual master’s degree in urban and regional planning (through Taubman College) and environment and sustainability (through the School for Environment and Sustainability).
Perales, a first-generation college student, grew up in southwest Detroit surrounded by vacant land, blighted property, illegal dumping, and noise and air pollution. “I didn’t start putting the pieces together until I got older, that these environmental factors impact how I live and the quality of my life,” said Perales, who has severe asthma. In high school, she began volunteering with Cadillac Urban Gardens, part of the Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision Project (SDEV). She continued working there throughout college and now is their environmental sustainability specialist — a full-time job on top of her graduate students at the University of Michigan.
With Sarah Clark, M.U.P. ’15, Perales co-manages SDEV’s farms and orchard, including coordinating volunteers and working with the community to teach sustainability. Clark and other Taubman College alumni inspired Perales’s career path and introduced her to U-M; now Perales is doing the same for the youth and interns she mentors. “Environmental factors tend to be left out of the planning process, as well as the needs and wants of the community — especially frontline communities and communities of color like mine — so I am going into this field to make sustainable, equitable change,” said Perales. “Having that deeper connection with interns because of the level playing field of our backgrounds shows them what is possible. And it reminds me that I need to work and study hard so I can continue to navigate these spaces in a way that makes life better for them in the future.”
The Michigan Climate Action Network is comprised of more than 70 organizations and 30,000 individuals and partners with many coalitions and campaigns working for climate solutions and justice. The organization’s mission is to connect and amplify individuals, communities, and organizations confronting the climate crisis in Michigan and support them in advancing equitable climate solutions with the urgency science demands for the environment and all that live in it.
The inaugural Michigan Climate Awards recognize Michiganders doing exceptional work in these areas. The Young Climate Leader Award goes to a student or other young person going above and beyond as a volunteer or individual.
One of the many people who nominated Perales wrote, “As a classmate of Dolores’, I’ve learned so much from her, and watch her work tirelessly to fundraise and promote events that educate our community. She is an inspiration and deserves the Young Climate Leader award.”