It had not rained in Iowa City for eleven days. We had been experiencing a cooler than usual June, with day after day of amazingly great temperatures and low humidity. I should have known it wouldn’t last.
Iowa weather usually acts like a spoiled child and demands constant attention. The minute you look away, it will catch you in snow without a coat or a thunderstorm without an umbrella. Or the temperature will rise 30 degrees in a few hours and put you in a dripping sweat because you’re not wearing shorts. These are facts of life in Iowa. I forgot. I lowered my guard. I did not schedule a rain date.
For months, I had been focusing on creating a Fourth of July, New Orleans-style, second-line, jazz funeral march. This was to be a symbolic funeral for the Iowa River, held by volunteers from our Facebook group, Save The Iowa River (STIR). The planning went on: a casket, pallbearers, news coverage, musicians, music, marchers, signs, bottles filled with water from the Iowa River, parade permit, first aid kit, parking, tables, tent. When the word rain came to mind, I just told myself that there would be lots of umbrellas at the march anyway, in keeping with the motif; so, if it did rain, everything would work out just fine.
As the funeral day grew closer, I checked Weather.com a few times. I remember seeing sunny skies all week long, and a 50 percent chance of rain on Saturday. Only 50 percent! Okay, so I’m the eternal optimist. My glass is always half full. Even if it did rain that day, what were the odds that the 50 percent would include the hours from noon to 1:30?
Besides educating the public about the pollution in the Iowa River, we had another purpose for holding the parade. A friend of mine, Kevin J. Railsback, is an award-winning videographer. He wanted to use the footage of our funeral march in his full-length movie about the Iowa River.
Two of our dedicated interns, Jazmyn Whitman and Eleanor M., helped us put up posters around Iowa City. Then the four of us set up shop in City Park the week before the Fourth, pulling buckets of water out of the Iowa River, filling 900 recyclable bottles with very nasty water, and capping them. We hauled the five tubs of bottles to our home, washed the outsides to sanitize them, dried them and applied labels to each bottle. All this took a total of about forty hours, counting everyone’s input — much more than I had imagined.
Just to give you some insight on how to plan a New Orleans-style, second-line, jazz funeral march for a dying river, first — and most important — is the casket. You have to call every funeral home in the county. You have to beg.
If you are very lucky, like I was, you will find a funeral home director who is also an environmentalist. Dan Ciha, of Gay & Ciha Funeral and Cremation Services is the kind of guy who wants to build a completely green cemetery. No formaldehyde, no expensive caskets, just wrap your beloved in their favorite blanket and bury them in the good earth. I love this guy.
He must have a soft spot for the Iowa River, too, because he didn’t just deliver us a casket the day before the parade, he delivered us a beautiful wooden casket, handmade by the Trappist monks at New Melleray Abbey near Dubuque. This one was a work of art, sculpted from native pine trees that they had harvested. At the abbey, they milled, dried, hand planed, and assembled the wood, then painted the casket with a light coat of varnish, praying all the while. It was stunning.
But there’s one thing about borrowing a wood casket: If Ciha ever wanted to sell it to a client after the parade, we could not get it wet. Saturday morning, we went back out to the Ciha funeral home and picked up a plastic casket cover.
The next very important element you need are pallbearers. I had called about a dozen strong, healthy, muscular, male friends, who I thought might have an environmental interest in the Iowa River — and who might get out of bed on a Saturday morning on the Fourth of July. That final criteria could have eliminated all of them. I figured I needed at least twelve pallbearers to carry the casket six blocks. That way, we could trade off, as the men got tired.
If everything went wrong, and say, it rained really hard that day, and not a single pallbearer showed up, I fully expected I would have to carry the casket myself. I had a two-wheeler ready just in case I had to roll it up the hill like a Fed Ex delivery man.
Probably the next most important prop for this funeral was the music. I had started contacting musicians two months earlier. I called, emailed, and wrote letters to about 50 different musicians. Each one was a fine artist, I am sure. Some I knew, some I did not. The first ones I contacted played every instrument that you would typically see in a New Orleans-style funeral march: trombone, trumpet, tuba, and saxophone.
The Iowa City Jazz Festival planners had told me I could hold our parade from noon to 1:30, because they wanted us to be finished playing when their concert started at 2:00. Almost every musician I talked to had already been booked at other gigs for the Fourth of July in other cities, or they were planning to march in that morning’s parade in nearby Coralville. Many of them thought they would be too tired to do both events, and many were afraid they could not travel the distance in time for a noon start for my parade. I got many well wishes, but very few commitments.
I found a band of five New Orleans-style jazz musicians from Davenport, who would play for $2,000, and a local group, who would play for $500. I had no budget to work with, but I verbally committed to booking the local band for the lower price anyway. Three days before the event, they canceled for a better offer. I began to worry.
If no musicians showed up, I figured I could use a boom box and just blast jazz music as we marched. I visited a friend at West Music to see if maybe there were other musicians in town. We seriously considered the following alternatives: banjo, ukulele, guitar, harp, violin, cello, marimba, steel drums, accordion, and harmonica.
At that point, my New Orleans-style jazz parade might have turned into a classical/Latin/folk/rock funeral parade. Maybe I could start a new trend. I took the list of names and phone numbers anyway. Before I left the store, I bought 20 kazoos as a last resort. Things weren’t looking too good.
When I got home, I had an email from a sousaphone player, John Manning. He said he was definitely going to be there. I had a band! I ran back to the music store to buy him some sheet music for “Down By The River Side” and “When The Saints Go Marching In.”
Friday evening before our parade, as I was walking around the Jazz Fest, checking out traffic patterns and security issues, I stopped and watched a group of very talented high school musicians. One particular saxophone player’s solo stood out. As Nathaniel Dean came off stage, I offered him a card and invited him to play at the march the following day. He very politely took the card. As he disappeared into the crowd, I wasn’t sure if I would ever see him again.
I was worried about the build-up of clouds and a weather report that now showed a 75 percent chance of rain the following day. At midnight, it started raining.
My experience with Iowa rainstorms tells me that, if there’s lightning, thunder, wind, and dramatic clouds, the storm may be violent, but it will pass in a few hours. But, if there’s a solid gray cloud mass, no thunder, no lightning, and a steady drizzle, it’s likely to last a long time. This was a drizzle. I checked the radar on Weather.com at 1:00 AM. The map showed the whole state was completely shrouded with rain, and the cloud formation was barely moving. Things were looking bleak.
At 6:00 AM, I was back at the computer, looking for any breaks in the clouds. A large mass of clouds was heading straight east, down Interstate 80. When I put the map in motion, to predict the future progress of the storm, it indicated that there might be a break in the clouds by noon. That was all I needed. Hope!
At 8:00 AM, the phone started ringing. Half of the pallbearers called to cancel. “My car’s in the shop.” “I have a sick kid.” “I don’t feel well.” “I lost the keys to my truck last night.” You would have thought an epidemic had struck every person, car and set of keys in the county. The other half made the mistake of asking me first, “Are you still doing this thing?”
My answer was a resolute, “Yes!” I was counting on the radar I had seen. I frantically sent out emails to as many friends, relatives, musicians, and pallbearers as I could, telling them to hold true. The rain was going to stop. This funeral was going to happen.
By 11:00 AM, I was not so sure. While my friend Robert Garabedian and I set up the “rain tent” at the starting point, I was still receiving phone calls, mostly cancellations. It was still raining like crazy at 11:30, as my wife, our intrepid interns, and the casket showed up. 11:35. 11:40. I was beginning to look for my two-wheeler.
At 11:45, a few pallbearers, my son, my daughter and her husband arrived. I felt relieved when John Manning came walking in with his sousaphone. At 11:50, a few friends, a few more pallbearers and Nathaniel Dean, the young sax player, arrived. Now, we would have harmony! At 11:55, a television film crew and a newspaper reporter, more marchers, and more pallbearers drizzled in with the rain.
We had the minimum necessary to march: six pallbearers, two musicians, a casket, several people, the film crew, and a news crew. It was still raining.
Jazmyn and Eleanor handed out umbrellas, wooden spoons (our symbol for Save The Iowa RIVER — STIR), kazoos, sample bottles of the Iowa River and a written summary of what ails the Iowa River. At noon, our wet duo was sufficiently tuned up, the pallbearers lifted the casket, and we were off!
As I moved along the parade line, I looked into the faces of friends with matted hair, and water dripping into their eyes, a sousaphone player with an open umbrella bursting from his bell, a sax player wailing the blues with true suffering in his eyes, and six hearty, wet pallbearers, marching in step, rocking the casket to the music. I counted about 40 good, kind souls marching with me, and I didn’t hear a single word of complaint. Not one.
The sousaphone player stopped blowing while climbing the rather steep incline of the Jefferson Street hill. He asked if it we could march the rest of the way in silence. Before I could answer, twenty kazoos came alive with the fervor of a scene from The Music Man. “When The Saints Go Marching In,” complete with piercing lead solos, complex harmonies, a thundering base line, key changes, and long-held high notes, never sounded so good. I was stunned. And it was still raining.
We finished the march at the entrance to the University of Iowa‘s Pentacrest, at the west end of Iowa Avenue. We played more songs. We watched as the wet photographers and the wet videographers moved around us to get the best shots. We all signed a large letter to the governor of Iowa, our wish list of legislative action points, and we handed out bottles of Iowa River water to passersby. We dried off the casket and loaded it into my car.
Slowly, as if everyone did not want to appear to be giving into the rain, these kind souls and stalwart environmental activists departed. I shook their hands. I hugged them. I thanked them. I said goodbye.
And now, as I write what I remember of that day, I realize that I may have personally invited several hundred people to this event. Ten thousand may have read the invitation in the newspapers. Forty showed up to march in the rain. Together, we stirred the waters to get attention for the plight of the Iowa River. And I am eternally grateful.
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“Any human being who could look at these photos and not be moved would have to be lacking a heart,” I said, clicking through pictures of AIDS-orphaned children in Sub-Saharan Africa. “They are so beautiful. ”
“Yes,” said Karen Ande, the photographer. “That got to me, too.” Karen was at her home in San Francisco, California, when I called her for this interview. “From the first moment I saw the kids, I was taken. The children are all beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.”
Ande is a documentarian of the struggles of AIDS orphans in Sub-Saharan Africa. She supports various grassroots organizations working there, raising funds partially through the sale of her photographs.
You may wonder why Blue Planet Green Living has chosen to profile Ande’s photographic work. You may also wonder what it has to do with green living. The answer, for Joe and me, is that sustaining the planet doesn’t just mean making a healthy world in which to live. It also means providing for the health and well-being of the organisms — plants, animals, and, especially, people — who inhabit it. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
BPGL: How did you get started photographing orphans in Africa?
ANDE: At first, I was interested in photographing the animals. My husband I had traveled a couple of times to Africa. We volunteered for some Earthwatch projects in which we were field assistants to different scientists working in game parks. We went twice and tried to do it a third time, but the trip didn’t work out with Earthwatch. So we arranged our own trip.
At the time, I wasn’t aware of the impact of AIDS in Africa. I knew as much as anybody in the West in 2002 — which wasn’t much at all. Then, on one of the journeys we took during that trip, I met Jill Simpson, a Kenyan of British descent, who grew up there. Jill was a nurse who flew into the bush with doctors. She asked if I’d like to ride along to an orphanage. In the car with her, I said, “I’ll do some shots if you can use them for publicity.”
The orphanage got started after a social worker, a friend of Jill’s, found two boys wandering alone on the street. They were 8 and 10 years old, looking for their mom. The social worker took the boys home. Later, she found their mother in the morgue, about to be shoved into a common grave. The story about two abandoned children really bothered me and caught my attention. I got to meet those boys at the orphanage.
We visited the orphanage for an hour and a half, and I took shots of about 20 kids. I was so incredibly taken with the children. As we were leaving, someone said the orphanage had run out of rice. So I gave them money for rice and went back home, thinking that was the end of my involvement.
When I got home, I started printing pictures of the kids in the darkroom. Printing pictures is a magical thing. The pictures that emerged just completely grabbed me. I thought, I can do a couple of things. I can take the pictures I have and do nothing, or I can make a difference in the world. It was one of the points in life where I had to make a choice of which road I would take.
BPGL: What did you do next?
ANDE: Right after I came home, it was very clear to me that I wanted to go back. So I called the Firelight Foundation, in Santa Cruz. Their main interest is helping AIDS orphans in Sub-Saharan Africa; they are child-focused.
The AIDS issue has had a huge impact. I have heard there are from 15 to 18 million children living in appalling circumstances. In Africa, AIDS is in the heterosexual population and has affected a whole generation of parents. In the U.S., the emphasis is on treating adults and pregnant women. Very little work has been done with children. But Firelight has focused on children’s issues. I went back to Africa, and Firelight connected me with projects there.
BPGL: Tell about the projects you’re connected to in Africa.
ANDE: I work as a physical therapist in the States and fund my Africa work through that, but I often get help from agencies on the ground. Once Firelight funded me in Rwanda. And one agency has led to another. I’ve visited some very diverse kinds of communities and projects. With Firelight, I went to Kibera, the biggest slum in South Africa. They do volunteer testing for HIV, and they sponsor home health care workers there.
I had been in a photography class and met a teacher, who asked me to take pictures for her while I was in Kibera. I was absorbed and loved photographing the children. It was profoundly interesting, a visual feast. I felt more alive, more present, more that I had a sense that there was an impact to be made in a good way, that the pictures of these children could make a difference to their lives and the lives of kids in general over there.
I also went to the rural communities and focused on grassroots organizations in country. What that means, usually, is that someone in the community is impassioned on the issue and has an idea how to help. They know their communities, which are often very small. For example, one woman lived in a tiny town that had no pharmacy. So she decided to create one. With the profits, she intended to send orphans to school. There are no school fees, but you have to have uniforms. Poor children can’t afford $25 for clothes, and sometimes they have to pay tuition too.
The woman who started the pharmacy had an idea, but didn’t know what to do to implement it. She connected with another nonprofit that taught her how to get the idea funded. So far, she has sent about 18 or 20 children to school. Her idea worked because it involved people in a community who know what their community needs.
BPGL: I understand there’s a lot of corruption in some places, and that the aid we send from the US or elsewhere doesn’t always benefit those it’s intended to. Can you trust the community groups you work with?
ANDE: If I fall in love with a project started by a community organizer and come back home to fund-raise, I know what the project is doing. I also know that the person I’m working with knows it intimately and can direct money to the maximum benefit with very little waste. In some cases, people start projects on almost nothing.
With the community projects I’m connected to, there’s no waste, no government bureaucracy, no shady dealings. They provide a way for people [outside of Africa] to connect with people over there. You can give $25 to send kids to school and know it will actually happen.
We met one family, a 13 year-old girl named Esther, her dying mother, and three other children. Someone had given us a donation of $35, so we spent money on chickens for Esther to raise and sell. Several weeks later, the mother died. Nuns looked in and tried to figure out what to do with the children. All four were placed in Saidia (the word means “Help” in Swahili), a very small orphanage in Gilgil, Kenya, that holds about 35 children. That money bought protein when the mom died and helped keep the kids together as a family.
But I haven’t just gotten involved with orphanages. In Africa, people try to keep children in their own communities. They may live with an aunt or an uncle or grandparents. It’s a very tentative situation, as the relatives are often poor themselves. Some of the aid goes to help support the community so that children can stay with relatives.
BPGL: Do you work with nonprofit organizations besides Firelight?
ANDE: Yes, another I particularly like is GRACE, which stands for Grass Roots Alliance for Community Education. In one case, the director of the local GRACE group approached an elderly woman about taking in six kids. The woman was overwhelmed. “How about if I give you a cow?” he asked her. The granny said yes and took in all six children. Families are being made across genetic lines.
A whole generation of parents is dying, and there are so many children. Many people have at least one child they’ve taken in. Grandparents have special responsibilities. For example, Paulina had 12 children. All 12 died of AIDS, leaving her with 16 grandkids to raise alone, and she was 92.
BPGL: What is the future bringing to the next generation? Will they understand AIDS and protect themselves?
ANDE: It’s hard to say. It depends. You can educate people about the disease, but poverty is as much a problem as anything else. People here in the United States have free and private access to HIV testing. In rural Africa, they might walk miles to get a doctor. If you have HIV and no symptoms, you don’t know you’re sick, and you can be spreading it. Once you have symptoms, the likelihood of getting help has improved. Anti-retroviral drugs are more common than they used to be. But with poverty, people don’t always have choices.
For example, a woman I met worked in a dicey hotel in a small town; it was really bad there. She was employed by the owner, and she had to sleep at the hotel. In the middle of the night, a man came into her room. He was a village elder who was ill [with AIDS]. He said, “You will have sex with me. If not, I’ll tell your boss, and he’ll fire you.” She had the immediate and very real pressure of getting food for her children, so she felt she had no choice. It was a poverty decision.
I think that things will probably get better. I’m hoping there will be a medical solution to make it easier to deal with the disease or get treated. But there are still so many issues surrounding poverty. With even a small donation to a local organization, we can make a substantial difference in individual people’s lives. If enough of us care, we can make a huge difference in many lives.
BPGL: Is part of the answer adoption to families in other countries?
ANDE: There are not nearly as many adoptions as there are children who need homes. People in Sub-Saharan Africa have mixed feelings about adopting older kids out of their communities. Family structure is very important. They try to keep families together. One result is that there are many children taking care of children.
I saw huge numbers of child-headed families in Kibera. That is really difficult. It’s extremely hard for me to see this, and I’ve seen a lot at this point. Kids are very vulnerable. One girl, Yvonne, was orphaned at 12 and left with a six-month-old sister. They were living in a mud shack and had to pay rent. It was an impossible situation. We connected her with Kibera Hamlets, an organization that directly benefits child-headed families. There are a lot of groups working in the slum, and they have different approaches to the problems.
Another thing that kills people is stigma. Yvonne had had a two-parent family. Both had AIDS, but were reluctant to go to the clinic for testing. Your neighbors can see you walk in. If you walk out, they know you’re fine. If you stay there an hour to learn what you need to, you’re not. By the time they went to get tested and were put on anti-retroviral drugs, it was too late.
When I met Yvonne, she would attend school until it was time to collect the fees. Then she [and other kids who didn’t have the funds] would disappear for a while. When the pressure was off for collecting fees, they would come back.
BPGL: What about her little sister?
ANDE: She basically leaves her two-year-old sister, Tina, home alone. The little sister wanders from place to place looking for food. She is very shy and frightened. She has a haunted face. Yvonne is trying to go to school and sell sweets. She buys the sweets at low cost, then sells them on a blanket to passersby. She might make 100 shillings a week, which is about $1.50, to support both herself and Tina. Something about Yvonne touched me. I talked to church groups who agreed to send her tuition. She now is in high school. That costs $125 a year.
BPGL: How do you keep from bringing all of the children home?
ANDE: In a way, I do bring them all home. You have to figure out how to handle it. It’s like a half-full/half-empty glass. I choose to emphasize the full. Sometimes people really touch me. If there’s a group I feel compelled to raise money for and feel I can help, I do that.
Wake people up to the problem, and they will help. That keeps me going. I focus on what little I can do and do it well. Both Firelight and GRACE have stringent guidelines. I give through the U.S. groups to make sure there’s monitoring and oversight.
BPGL: What can people outside of Africa can do to help?
ANDE: What you asked is a complicated question. If you’re coming from the States, you don’t know the people on the ground. But you can connect with people on the ground from Firelight, the Steven Lewis Foundation, Partners in Health, GRACE, and a few others. If you donate to those groups, you know the money will directly benefit the communities that need help.
I have a Take Action page on my website, for donations to the Firelight Foundation, GRACE, and others. It really makes a difference in kids’ lives. For example, the head of GRACE USA is Natasha Martin. She decided she would put all the orphans in a certain community through school. She’s paying for 200 orphans in primary school through college.
You can also get educated — read a book or two. You won’t get excited till you find out more about it. I put books on the bookstore page of my website that I think are written in a way to connect with people. If you’re interested in adoption, you should read There’s No Me Without You, by Melissa Fay Greene.
Or, if you have the means to travel and see it firsthand, there are ways to do that. But the experience is beyond a level of adventure a lot of people want to go through. If you go there, you will be changed.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Note: Proceeds from the sale of Ande’s book, Face to Face: Children of the AIDS Crisis in Africa, will be used to support orphaned and vulnerable children in Sub-Saharan Africa, a few of whom are profiled in the book. The book is available on the web at www.facetofaceafrica.com. By purchasing directly from the book’s website rather than an online bookstore, significantly more of the proceeds will be available to support the work that Ande and Richter sponsor.
As you plan your holiday shopping, please consider giving Face to Face to someone on your list. Your purchase will be a double blessing, as it brings a gift of love to the recipient and a gift of hope to children who have little else.
December 23, 2008 by Julia Wasson
Filed under Activists, Architects, Architecture, Blog, Brownfields, Ecopreneurs, Engineers, Front Page, Illinois, Retrofitting, Solar, Sustainability, Texas, Weatherizing
Did you watch the Bears play the Packers yesterday from the warmth of your home? Maybe you were among the frozen fans braving 7-degree weather to root for your favorite team on the shores of Lake Michigan. Blue Planet Green Living was there, too, tailgating in the parking lot of the Adler Planetarium nearby.
So, go ahead, ask. What does the Bears/Packers game — or tailgating, for that matter — have to do with being green? It’s a fair question.
Our host yesterday was the Big Green Egg, the company that makes an ancient grilling system turned modern that we’ll tell more about another day. This was the kickoff filming for an upcoming television pilot featuring luminary chefs — like Dean Eliacostas from Carmichael’s Chicago Steakhouse — cooking Around the Grill in 80 Days on Big Green Egg grills. Despite the bitter weather, we kept warm and comfortable, in a beautiful motor coach provided for the video shoot by Liberty Coach.
The food was delicious — amazing, in fact — but the driver for our participation was the opportunity to meet with a few of the leaders in the green movement in the Chicago area. In coming weeks, we’ll share with you what we learned about how environmental engineers, architects, and grassroots organizers are planning for, and implementing, progressive projects in sustainability. We think you’ll be inspired by what each of these people has to say.
We’ll introduce you to environmental engineer, Rob Rafson, of Full Circle Sustainability Management Solutions. Full Circle’s “mission is to make ‘going green’ profitable, and show return on investment so that true sustainability is achievable.” And the company is doing just that.
Rob is responsible for the largest solar thermal rooftop installation in Chicago — at an overall cost savings. What’s more impressive, perhaps, is that the installation is part of a brownfield renovation. He’s cleaned up a formerly toxic paint manufacturing facility and created a healthy space that uses solar energy to heat the building. Joe and I recently interviewed Rafson and soon will share with you his thoughts on sustainable business practices.
Green architects Lisa and Ron Elkins designed the Green Exchange, an all-green office building created by renovating a former men’s underwear factory in downtown Chicago. Their firm, 2 Point Perspective Inc., also won the competition to design a zero-energy home. We’ll be telling you more as they prepare to break ground. Like Rafson, the Elkins team is involved in multiple projects worth our attention, and we will help spread the word.
We also had the privilege to meet face-to-face with Susan Roothaan, founder of A Nurtured World in Austin, Texas. Susan’s roots are in Hyde Park, where her parents still live, just two blocks from President-elect Obama’s home. On December 12, we introduced you to Rays of Hope and 1 House at a Time in Renewable Energy, A Tool for Social Equity, projects operating under the umbrella of Roothaan’s nonprofit.
Something quite wonderful is now happening, as community organizers in Hyde Park — including Susan’s 84-year-old mother, Judy Roothaan, and neighbor Sharon Klopner — work to implement a Rays of Hope-type of project in their own neighborhood.
They will be sharing with Mr. Obama ideas about retrofitting the older homes, rather than razing them. They want funding to put solar panels on roofs, like Rays of Hope and Rafson have done. And they want to use eco-friendly materials to make these buildings energy efficient, like Rafson, the Elkins team, and Roothaan’s team are doing. Support from grants and tax incentives will be key to making this happen, and both Roothaan and Rafson have extensive experience to share.
The interchange of ideas last night was electric. What it showed us all was the incredible power of people working independently toward a common purpose, and how much more effective that can be when we share our knowledge and visions with each other.
Yes, even a tailgate can be an inspirational green experience. Please stay tuned to find out more about what we learned and, especially, to hear about the important work happening in Chicago. Then let us know what’s going on in your city, so we can spread the word and build the kind of synergy we were privileged to be a part of last night.
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Nothing about last Saturday invited me to be outside. The wind blew with a bitter chill. My fingertips froze inside my gloves, and my left foot cramped from the cold. But I was just there to talk and observe; I could leave at any time. The university students, on the other hand, had committed to weatherizing an older couple’s home, and they stayed until it was finished.
What would bring 41 young adults outside for three hours on a bitingly cold weekend, when they had midterm exams to take and papers to write? For that matter, they had football to watch on TV, video games to play, or any number of other activities that wouldn’t require them to shiver in the wind. Yet, these volunteers were attaching weather stripping, putting plastic on the windows, and adding a door sweep in the front entrance of Ben Ploof’s home in Coralville, Iowa.
Across Iowa City and Coralville, 38 other students were donating a few hours of their weekend to winterize the homes of residents who needed their assistance. By Sunday evening, the group had helped 16 families to lower their utility bills, stay more comfortable in the coming winter, and reduce their carbon footprints.
Minor Weatherstripping, Major Effect
Stephanie Enloe, junior co-president of the University of Iowa’s Environmental Coalition (UIEC), is the pint-sized dynamo who organized the project. When her counterpart, senior co-president Eric Holthaus, told Stephanie about a grant from the Iowa Utilities Board, she said, “Hey, I’ll spearhead that!”
After the project was awarded one of ten $500 grants, Craig Just, professor of engineering and faculty adviser for the local chapter of Engineers for a Sustainable World, offered to match the amount. The combined donation allowed students to purchase caulk, door sweeps, window film, CFL bulbs, and insulation pads to install behind outlets and switch plates.
To make sure students knew how to install the materials, Enloe put together a slide show and held training sessions at her home. Then she followed up by emailing a PowerPoint presentation to fellow volunteers. The students were eager to help make a difference in people’s lives and to improve the environment, even a window or door at a time, and Enloe wanted to help them do it correctly.
To find people needing weatherizing assistance, members of the UIEC notified religious groups, school counselors, and the Senior Center. The grant funds were intended to be used for elderly, disabled, or needy families. Ploof heard of the project through his church. “I think it’s a great help,” he said. “It may seem like minor weatherstripping, but it’s major for preventing infiltration from the wind.”
Ploof, whose wife requires continuous care due to a stroke, added, “I really appreciate the service. It probably would not have gotten done [except for the students' efforts]. It’s needed, and it’s going to help.” He returned the favor by serving the students a warm pan of homemade apple crisp.
The UIEC has a tradition of community activism, including starting a campus recycling program last spring. Working with Dave Jackson at Facilities Management, students conducted a waste characterization study at selected buildings. What they found spurred them to continue: more than 50 percent of the trash was comprised of recyclable materials. And that didn’t include the food waste that could be composted. The group wrote a grant that yielded $14,000 from Coca Cola and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. With the award, they purchased recycling bins to place both inside and outside of campus buildings.
Student volunteer groups — and classes — are making their green mark both on and off campus. Groups offer green consulting in dorms and Greek houses, volunteers tend a community garden, and classroom projects that take young engineers as far away as Ghana to implement projects that improve sustainability.
When I asked Enloe why she and fellow students are taking such an aggressive approach to dealing with the environment, she didn’t hesitate. “My generation doesn’t have the time to wait for those in power to take care of the urgent problems facing us,” she said. “Climate change won’t wait for us to graduate or get settled. We have to do as much as we can to ensure that the world our children inherit is a safe one.”
With that kind of passion burning within, “those in power” (and the rest of us) could learn a lot by following the students’ lead.
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