Roots & Shoots’ Kai is a Helper Who Shows Up For People and Animals


Kai Neander is a reminder that every time we are faced with the challenges of the world, we must remember to look for the helpers. Kai, a recent college graduate, has been taking on remarkable positive and impactful projects since 2007 (before he even turned 18!). This all started when he first met Dr. Jane Goodall at the Sequoia Park Zoo (SPZ) and discovered JGI’s Roots & Shoots. At the time he was volunteering with the resident chimpanzee named Bill, and the visit inspired him to start a Roots & Shoots chapter with other volunteers and staff. From massive reforestation projects to fundraising for the zoo, Kai embodies the power of one individual to make a difference.

Let’s get to know Kai:

Hometown: Humboldt County, CA

Location: Seattle, WA

Studies: Bachelors in International Affairs from George Washington University

Involvement in Roots & Shoots: Roots & Shoots National Youth Leadership Council (NYLC) and California Youth Leadership Council, International Ambassador for JGI, and a youth speaker in Dr. Jane’s national speaking tours

Getting Started

So how does one up and start a Roots & Shoots group? Roots & Shoots encourages young people to follow the 4 Step Formula – starting with getting inspired, followed by mapping (or observing) your community. Kai began with something close to his heart after observing his community – the Sequoia Park Zoo (SPZ)! The SPZ Roots & Shoots chapter was able to help with the zoo’s fundraising as well as in assisting the zoo in retrofitting and furnishing various exhibits for some of the zoo’s residents. One of the things that Roots & Shoots does best is teaching young people how to look for the most impactful way to improve a situation – in this case, thinking about how to better furnish the enclosures for the animals!

More Trees Please!

One of the other big projects that the SPZ Roots & Shoots chapter completed was tied to the national R&S Rebirth the Earth campaign to plant 3,000 trees across the United States. Kai said that it was difficult to find trees and places to plant them, but “through some well timed habitat restoration projects around the Humboldt Bay Watershed, our chapter was able to plant 1,000 trees helping the national campaign surpass it’s goal!” Roots & Shoots is all about individual action and a collective movement for good. The Roots & Shoots network is massive and through one-click campaigns, Facebook groups and celebrations of service, small ideas are making huge change happen around the world.

Youth Voice in Action

Soon after joining and founding the chapter, Kai joined the Roots & Shoots California Youth Leadership Council (CAYLC) and was later one of two CAYLC representatives on the Roots & Shoots National Youth Leadership Council (NYLC). His involvement with his chapter of R&S, as well as the NYLC, helped him become more involved with JGI internationally and as an ambassador. He participated as a youth speaker in Dr. Jane’s national speaking tours, had the role of international ambassador, and was able to represent JGI at events across the U.S. and internationally.

From Roots to Shoots: Growing Impact in the World

After Kai’s time with JGI, he went on to work in Innovative Practice and Emergency Practice at GW Medical Center in Washington DC. Most recently, he has relocated to Seattle where Kai says he hopes “to pair the formative experiences I had with Roots & Shoots with my recent healthcare non-profit management work in DC.”

Kai’s advice for people that want to make a difference is, “It’s just a matter of getting out there and doing it. If you have something that you are passionate about, it is not as daunting or impossible as it seems once you start looking for the support network.”

Every individual has the capacity to do GREAT things. Are you a helper? Join Roots & Shoots today here. AND the applications are open for the Roots & Shoots National Youth Leadership Council! Now is your chance to be like Kai and Jane today →


The Jane Goodall Institute is a global community conservation organization that advances the vision and work of Dr. Jane Goodall. By protecting chimpanzees and inspiring people to conserve the natural world we all share, we improve the lives of people, animals and the environment. Everything is connected—everyone can make a difference.

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