Volunteer Spotlight: High schooler Gigi Santo co-leads Florida chapter

Giovanna Gigi Santo

Volunteer Spotlight: High schooler Gigi Santo co-leads Florida chapter

By Katie Zakrzewski

This month’s Volunteer Spotlight shines the light on Giovanna “Gigi” Santo, a high school senior and Group Co-Leader in Broward County, Florida. Her area has seen incredible CCL growth with her help. With a family of Brazilian heritage serving in the Air Force, Gigi has had the opportunity to see and live in many places, such as Hawaii, Las Vegas, Arizona, and California, to name a few. But after moving to Florida, the teen noticed that climate change was having a drastic impact on coastal communities. This prompted her to join CCL.

Gigi is one of the speakers at CCL’s December conference. You can read more about her story below.

How did you decide that it was time to get involved in climate advocacy?

I was always aware of how threatening climate change is, but I always thought that someone else would take care of it. As the years went by, I heard worse and worse news and got the sinking feeling in my chest that nothing would change. I was finally desperate for something to happen, and I decided to work until I could make something happen. I think natural disasters have given people a lot of anxiety. Some people give in to apathy, but I think others get fired up and decide to do something about it. I was one of the people who got fired up.

What are some of the climate issues that you noticed after moving to Florida?

I had heard about things happening because of climate change, but was always moving so often that I didn’t have much time to notice. When I moved to Florida, though, it was hard to ignore. My community wasn’t terribly impacted by Hurricane Ian, but we still had power outages and got out of school for a few days. A neighborhood a couple of miles away was flooded, and I saw a man in a paddle boat going through the streets in his neighborhood. I have some friends in Fort Myers whose communities were completely destroyed. So many people lost everything. I was at a tabling event, and some people from Fort Myers came down to join us, and they told me how their doors and windows were completely blown out. 

How did you get involved with CCL?

A year before I knew about CCL, I was looking through a bunch of different climate organizations and signing up for all of their emails. I went to the meetings and sat through the trainings from all of these other organizations. None of them were really active. It didn’t feel like there was a specific solution that they were pushing. They were just reiterating that climate change is bad, and everyone should know that. I remember thinking that yes, we all know that because we’re all here in these meetings. Finally, I was looking through my email, and I saw from CCL that Senator Manchin was considering climate legislation and all of the work that CCL was doing in relation to that. I remember thinking, “Wow, if these guys got Sen. Manchin to consider anything climate-related, they’re worth checking out. That’s impressive, and I want to be in on getting that through Congress.” 

That seemed to me like the most realistic way that we were going to get any climate action done. That’s one of the reasons I continued being involved in CCL — we’re realistic without being too idealistic. CCL works to pass realistic, climate-friendly policies that have something for everyone.

What have you been doing within CCL since joining?

I joined in April and had a call with our co-leader, Jeff Dorian, before volunteering to do some things just to help out. I got more involved until I became a Co-Leader of my chapter. When I first joined, I decided to start with the monthly calling campaign, and I made a presentation for the chapter and presented to a couple of other groups. Each month it’s grown more and more. We had a tabling event and signed up lots of new volunteers, and we had 15 volunteers show up to work our tabling event. Everyone was super enthusiastic. We worked a lot on elections and attended candidate forums where we asked questions about climate change. Karl Paasgard, a CCL liaison, organized a meeting with one of our members of Congress, Rep. Sheila Cherfilus McCormick (D-FL-20). Karl’s talents and experience in business made us super professional and effective. Our member of Congress ended up cosponsoring some of the legislation that we brought forward, and I was super excited about that. It was amazing to work with these people and really get something accomplished. 

What are some goals that you have moving forward?

I think that after a long time of not knowing what I wanted to do for college or my career, all of the success that we’ve been getting from doing this in CCL has really opened up my eyes to wanting to do this kind of work. I want to be involved in more advocacy and the civil process, and lobbying. This is something that interests me, and I’d love to get even more involved with CCL. As for CCL Florida, we’re lobbying and pushing for a carbon border adjustment mechanism. I think that this will make it so much easier to get Republicans on board about carbon pricing as a whole. Our chapter is working to get the support of local businesses and take that support to the lobbying meetings so we have some more influence that way. 

You can see Gigi speak more about her climate journey at our December conference on Dec. 3-4. Register now.  You can read what CCLer Jeff Dorian had to say about Gigi in his post on CCL Community here.

Katie Zakrzewski, CCL Communications Coordinator, is an avid reader, writer and policy wonk. With published pieces, as well as podcast and radio appearances spanning the country, Zakrzewski looks forward to using her talents to create a healthier planet of tomorrow.