By Megan Kehoe

The Bulletin

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Teen feats: Kids recognized recently for academic achievements or for participation in clubs, choirs or volunteer groups. (Please submit a photo.)

Contact: 541-383-0358, youth@bendbulletin.com

Mail: P.O. Box 6020, Bend, OR 97708

Other school notes: College announcements, military graduations or training completions, reunion announcements.

Contact: 541-383-0358, bulletin@bendbulletin.com

Story ideas

School briefs, student profiles: Got items and announcements of general interest or know of a kid with a compelling story?

Contact: 541-633-2161, news@bendbulletin.com

Milo Cress isn’t afraid of pounding on the doors of legislators at the state Capitol in Denver.

He’s not afraid of talking to news reporters. He’s not even afraid of speaking in front of an audience of more than 1,000 people dressed in suits.

What does scare Milo is talking in front of kids his own age.

But the 13-year-old is getting plenty of experience with this: In the last few years, he’s spoken to almost 10,000 students throughout the United States, Europe and Australia.

“I tell kids they should get involved with their future because it’s important,” Milo, an eighth-grader at Pilot Butte Middle School, said.

Milo is a recent transplant to Bend from Longmont, Colorado, and is somewhat of a celebrity in the world of environmental causes. He is responsible for the Be Straw Free project, a cause that garnered national attention four years ago when Milo started it. The project encourages restaurants and other establishments to cut down on the usage of straws by offering customers straws rather than just providing them along with soft drinks. Milo has won a slew of awards for the project, including most recently the 2014 Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes. Milo was one of 25 in the country to be selected for the award, which recognizes young people who make an impact.

Milo started his Be Straw Free project when he was 9 years old. Milo and his mother, O’Dale Cress, used to write reviews about kid-friendly restaurants when they lived in Burlington, Vermont. One day at a diner, Milo was presented with a straw in his soda.

“He was offended when they gave him a straw,” O’Dale Cress said. “He said, ‘I’m not a baby!’”

Milo doesn’t remember exactly how that moment translated into launching his project, but he said later he did some research and read that every day 500 million straws are thrown away.

“I just found the waste really annoying,” Milo said. “I always played outside growing up, and I had always seen the outdoors at its most pristine. I heard there are fewer and fewer pristine places on earth. I was just annoyed in general.”

Milo started a Web page for his project and along with his mom began going around to restaurants, asking them if they would adopt the practice of offering their customers straws instead of automatically handing them out. The project picked up steam and started to get media attention. When Milo and his mom moved to Colorado, Milo visited the state Capitol building and asked officials there if they would sign a declaration that said his suggestion on straws was a best practice for restaurants and establishments.

July 11, 2013, was declared Straw Free Day in Colorado.

“It was amazing to see the project evolve from him just saying ‘Hey, I don’t need this straw,’ to what it’s become today,” O’Dale Cress said.

Milo’s Be Straw Free campaign is really only the start for the young environmentalist. The project has evolved into much more. For the past two years, Milo has traveled around the United States and to Europe and Australia, speaking at environmental conferences and to classrooms around the world. He and his mom raise money to go on these speaking tours. His project has morphed during that time.

“It’s definitely evolved from something entirely environmental to encouraging kids to make a difference of any sort,” Milo said.

He speaks to classrooms about how to start their own projects about causes they’re passionate about. Milo said kids have come up to him with ideas of their own. He plans to continue speaking in schools next year.

One of the things he wants people to know is that kids are people, too.

“The planet won’t be ours far off in the distant future,” Milo said. “It’s already ours: We already share it.”

—Reporter; 541-383-0354, mkehoe@bendbulletin.com

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