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Be The Change You See: The Starting Point

By Hannah Welborn-Lewis, North Carolina Coming from North Carolina, I have been ingrained with our state motto. “Esse Quam Videri”, which translates as “to be rather than to seem”. To truly be intentional requires thought and a course of action.

SUPPORT AN AMBASSADOR The ramifications of the pandemic played a major role in how I view the world and the role I wish to serve in this lifetime. As Covid-19 was spreading like wildfire, my interests and thoughts about environmental causes grew. As I finished graduate school, I shifted from researching sports to a growing desire for environmental communication. I watched eco-based documentaries, sought out academic research, and volunteer opportunities that had an eco-centric mission. I felt called in a sense…

I volunteered for urban gardens, took shifts helping with local farmer’s markets, and assisted with a multitude of different cleanups. And from each experience, I felt a fire to continue and a sense of community. While I was following the path of corporate America out of the pure sense of just getting a full-time job out of school, I realized that perhaps I could turn my calling towards environmental communication and education into a reality. A position for a social media and public education role had opened up for a local municipality and I knew I had to at least give it a shot. And I got the job and honestly, it has changed the course of my life. I hope that you read this and that you truly believe that you can have an impact. I have felt unqualified in various situations, but have found that if you have a mission and a drive for enacting a movement, you can be a force to be reckoned with.

In my current position, I help with volunteers in both our Adopt-a-Stream and drain marker programs. Protecting our waterways and further educating people on our drinking water is at the heart of my job. Every day I get to wake up to the mission of informing the public about facts they may not have known and providing them with the resources to live a more eco-conscious lifestyle. While posting about sewer overflows is not always the coolest, it is highly important and warms my nerdy heart. Thus, I would be remiss to not tell you about some starting places when comes to finding how you can find an environmental cause that you feel compelled to or at least inspires you to take the first step to sustainable living.

Tour your local landfill or water facility

Having the chance to tour a landfill was perhaps one of the most eye-opening experiences. While we have a generalized idea of recycling, it is key to realize that recycling standards are very different from city to city. Recycling contamination is a major issue and poses a threat to workers at local landfills. I learned why it is crucial to not bag your recyclable items and how detrimental it can be to the workers sorting recycled goods. At the very least, double-check what is recyclable in your city or town. Also, check out where your water supply comes from or where your wastewater goes! Many cities do offer tours and you would be shocked at what goes into cleaning our wastewater or the process of getting your drinking water from a water source to your sink.

Do a cleanup or help place drain markers

If you are looking for a place to start with cleanups, working with your local government is an effective way to get access to resources and find what areas need the most attention. You can also look at Eventbrite and local groups to find cleanup opportunities. If you are ready to make the commitment, check out the adopt-a-programs around streams, trails, parks, and streets. Most municipalities require you to complete at least two cleanups a year when it comes to adopt-a-programs but will provide you with all the needed items. Even if you are not looking for a long-term commitment, get some friends together and pick a local spot to clean up. Most cities or towns have “hot spots” that have been identified as areas that need additional attention when it comes to beautification efforts.

Try an environment-based workshop

While attending workshops is a pivotal part of my job, there are so many eco-centric workshops that are in-person and online. Last year, I joined an online workshop where participants watched a documentary about fast fashion and I was able to join a seminar where we could ask experts more in-depth about the documentary. Libraries are good starting places if you are looking for potential workshops or groups to join! Besides becoming more informed, you get to meet like-minded people who have the same mission of becoming better global citizens.

Keep a journal of your waste

If you are really honing in on reducing your waste and looking at your habits, keep a journal of what you throw away. I know, I know…it sounds a little intense, but just try it for a day or two. We often take for granted that we can just throw away our waste in a trashcan. But where does it go? Could it go somewhere else? Could it have been reused or was the item even necessary? Doing a self-audit of your waste is a good start when it comes to developing a sustainable mindset.

Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer

Looking back at my journey and even my career path, I believe volunteering played the biggest impact. Volunteering at a food recovery program at my university really showed me what sustainability meant in the simplest terms. Instead of getting rid of extra food at the university’s cafe, we would package it and send it out into the community. We made the most of a resource and thus, maximized its use. Other volunteer opportunities could include urban gardens and food pantries. I highly encourage any volunteer opportunity that involves getting outdoors because it truly provides a level of self-awareness and enables you to grow your network. Did I mention that I met my current boss at a cleanup?

I hope that these tips can provide a starting point or at least a spark to taking that dive into being a warrior on behalf of Mother Earth. It can feel daunting when it comes to understanding the depths of the water crisis, global warming, and climate change. But, I hope you don’t let that stop you. I hope you find that place in your heart that embraces the challenge to be the change you want to see and maybe, just maybe inspire others to do the same.

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