- Posted byon April 30, 2013 at 11:02 AM EDT
Rebecca Templeton is being honored as a Champion of Change for her efforts as a Community Resilience Leader.
I grew up in a bayou community in south Louisiana where so much of daily life centers around one of our nation’s most productive estuaries. I remember taking shelter as a child in my grandparent’s home as a hurricane approached our community. My maw maw (grandmother) sat me down and explained why I was safe and told me about the lines of protection we had from the approaching hurricane.
She told me that before the hurricane reached our home, it first had to travel over the barrier islands, which would slow down the hurricane. She then told me that the marsh was like a sponge that soaked up water and energy from the hurricane. Only after the hurricane passed over these parts of our environment would it reach us as a weaker version of what it was.
While I may not have understood concepts that mean so much to our lives today like climate change, sea level rise, and storm surge, I knew, even from an early age, that a healthy environment helped to protect me and my family.
Fast forward to today, when climate change, sea level rise, and subsidence causes Louisiana to lose 16 square miles of wetlands, our natural flood protection, every year. This is roughly a football field every 38 minutes, much of it in my beloved Terrebonne Parish. According to NOAA scientists, this is not just the highest rate of land loss in the United States but possibly the globe. All of this is further complicated by living in an area facing enormous social vulnerability due to high poverty, where families have limited means to rebuild after a disaster.
We continue to experience stronger and more frequent extreme weather in southern Louisiana, as evidenced by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, Ike and Isaac. Our community has not only had to find ways to rebuild lives, businesses, and homes, but also to adapt to a more dangerous and vulnerable future. More homes in my community have flooded from what were once considered weak hurricanes and tropical storms.
When I was a young girl, I remember the vastness of the marsh land behind our family home. Now there are just clumps of marsh surrounded by water. It is evident that the habitat is changing. Where we once caught bass, a freshwater fish, my son now catches red fish, a saltwater fish. The environment has changed. There is less of it around me, and the impact of this is huge. These are big challenges, each too large to tackle alone. They require collective action as a community.
As our wetlands vanish, so do our culture, communities, livelihoods, and the natural hurricane storm protection provided by our coast. It is vital to acknowledge that the impacts of coastal land loss are occurring not because we live in or moved to an inherently flawed environmental system, but because our environment has been altered and manipulated. We are suffering the consequences of global issues like climate change and national issues like Mississippi River flood protection and dredging of canals for energy and commerce.
We founded Bayou Grace Community Services to engage both our local and national community to advocate for solutions. We want our communities to move from vulnerability and possible extinction to survival, resilience and sustainability. Louisiana coastal land loss affects not only our local communities and our state. It is an environmental issue that impacts the entire nation.
I joined Bayou Grace in 2009 and now serve as its Executive Director. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Bayou Grace was formed with the mission to restore the Barataria-Terrebonne Estuary by mobilizing participants in restorative projects, advocacy, and education. Bayou Grace participants develop a complex understanding of Louisiana coastal land loss and how restoration benefits the entire nation.
Bayou Grace’s Louisiana Estuary Experience, a co-operative five day volunteer program with the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program hosts over 250 volunteers annually. Volunteers aid in the restoration of our environment and participate in classroom/laboratory education at the Louisiana University Marine Consortium. Program participants educate others and advocate for restoration after involvement with Bayou Grace.
Volunteers also engage with local community members at community dinners via our Building Community Resilience through Community Dinners project. These community dinners are an opportunity for local residents to engage with government and NGO coastal restoration decision makers and leaders. As one local resident writes:
"…. I am a lifelong resident of Dulac, Louisiana. … [Bayou Grace] keeps our Bayou community informed on the many issues concerning coastal restoration and protection through their community dinners. I and other community people feel more informed on issues affecting our Bayou than ever before through attending these dinners."
Both local residents and national volunteers help create advocacy tools through our Why Should We Save Coastal Louisiana? photo project. Since 2010, over 800 local and national participants have been photographed with their answers to the project question: “Why should we save coastal Louisiana?” Many of these advocacy photos have been exhibited at art studios and museums, and have been used to create a project companion book, a book we now work to get into the hands of government and agency leaders who can have an impact on decisions made about Louisiana coastal restoration.
Bayou Grace and other coastal partners participate on Oxfam America’s Coastal Communities Initiative Campaign. We attend parish, state and federal meetings and conferences and educational workshops. This, combined with outreach, enables Bayou Grace to gain community, scientific and academic perspectives on land loss and restoration and to develop advocacy talking points in the best interest of our communities.
I am deeply honored to be selected as a Community Resilience Leader Champion of Change. This award represents not only my work, but the work of every out-of-state volunteer, every staff member and every community resident who has chosen to become engaged in the issue of Louisiana coastal land loss and restoration.
My hope is that all of our work will lead to thoughtful, holistic restoration and protection measures that balance the needs of our local community, their livelihoods and our environment. The lessons we learn in coastal Louisiana are a chance for our nation to prepare and learn how to tackle these challenges as more and more coastal communities are impacted by a changing climate and rising seas.
Rebecca Templeton is the Executive Director of Bayou Grace Community Services.
- Posted byon April 30, 2013 at 10:41 AM EDT
Patrick Barnes is being honored as a Champion of Change for his efforts as a Community Resilience Leader.
I am truly honored to be recognized by the White House as a Champion of Change Community Resiliency Leader. Early in my career as an environmental geologist working in New York and New Jersey, I was struck by the fact that the vast majority of the contaminated sites I worked on were located in poor or minority communities.
I could not help but notice that the employees of consultants and contractors doing the environmental assessment and cleanup work did not look like the residents of the area, who often lived directly adjacent to the source of pollution. These contractors would rarely employ local residents and instead bring employees in from other areas. This dichotomy grew even starker as my career took me to environmental projects in North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana.
In 1994, shortly after establishing Barnes, Ferland and Asscociates, Inc., also known as BFA Environmental, in Orlando, Florida, I read Dumping in Dixie by Robert Bullard. The book chronicles the tremendous disparities that exist in the siting of hazardous waste facilities, landfills, and industrial plants, and how such facilities are routinely placed in poor and minority communities.
Also in 1994, President Clinton signed Executive Order 12898, formally mandating that federal agencies make achieving environmental justice a part of their mission. During that time, I decided the most effective approach to achieve environmental justice at the grassroots level would be for firms that are involved in environmental assessment and remediation to be actively engaged in teaching the residents of impacted communities about the environment and how to safeguard and protect it.
Additionally, the results would be maximized if much needed job training were provided to at-risk members of these communities in conjunction with this outreach. In essence, the infrastructure repair and environmental restoration needs—which are greatest in underserved communities—represent a great opportunity for renewal. Residents of such communities should have the chance for a direct economic benefit from that opportunity.
This issue all came into clear focus for me after the destruction caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita along the Gulf Coast. These disasters exposed the tremendous lack of proper environmental infrastructure in poor communities. After BFA Environmental successfully completed a large contract on behalf of the Army Corps of Engineers in the aftermath of the hurricanes, it was time to take a decisive step.
Drawing from the lessons of a successful entrepreneurial and engineering business career, in 2006 I established Limitless Vistas, Inc. (LVI), a New Orleans-based nonprofit dedicated to providing entry-level job skills for the environmental industry to at-risk young adults. Since its founding, working primarily through job training grants from the EPA, the Corps Network, and the City of New Orleans and funding from BFA, LVI has trained over 300 young people from New Orleans as environmental technicians.
Trainees obtain a variety of credentials and certifications covering a wide variety of environmental skills including emergency response, asbestos/lead abatement, mold awareness, home energy efficiency auditing, OSHA construction safety and hazardous waste operations, FEMA emergency management, water and wastewater operations, coastal restoration and GIS mapping. The need for a properly trained local population with environmental skills was heightened yet again after the BP Deep Water Horizon oil spill. Billions of dollars will be spent and, by some accounts, 60,000 jobs created to make the Gulf Coast more environmentally resilient as a result of the spill.
Our work has provided disconnected young adults from poor and disadvantaged neighborhoods more direct access to these good jobs. In the process, LVI and BFA have emerged as leading voices along the Gulf Coast. We help organize business leaders involved in coastal restoration and protection projects and speak up for the economic value of investing in adaptation as communities begin to make plans to invest fines from the oil spill. Additionally, we have been advocates for innovative ways to bring together private and public policies to connect the most vulnerable workers to jobs and training in coastal resiliency projects, thus helping to build the socioeconomic strength necessary for communities to adapt to climate change.
In Spring of 2013, Limitless Vistas, BFA Environmental, and Oxfam America launched a coastal restoration job training pilot program further preparing at-risk youth in Louisiana’s coastal communities for jobs in environmental monitoring, surveying, assessment and data collection—a significant part of a number of ongoing and upcoming coastal restoration and protection opportunities projected in Louisiana. This work will leverage efforts by NOAA and EPA in the area.
My personal view is that there cannot be true environmental justice without economic justice. This tremendous need represents a unique opportunity for the residents that were most affected by environmental disaster to obtain meaningful jobs, thus putting them on a path to economic equality. However, navigating the political process and connecting the dots between locally-trained individuals, the contracting process and the potential contractors with the job vacancies is still a difficult task. But, it’s a challenge we are worthy of.
In addition to my work as founder and advisor to Limitless Vistas, I am a professional geologist and President/CEO of BFA Environmental, the largest African-American owned multidiscipline environmental engineering, scientific consulting and surveying firm headquartered in the southeast. We have offices throughout Florida and in New Orleans.
I routinely engage in work consulting on water resource needs of clients across the region designing and managing large-scale coastal resiliency projects including the Biscayne Bay Florida Minimum Flows and Levels Ecological Indicators and Kissimmee River Restoration Program analysis. Both projects were critical to the comprehensive Everglades Restoration program, and to building the resilience of southern Florida.
Over my 27-year career, I have worked extensively in the minority community, and on groundbreaking environmental justice projects. I continue to work with business leaders across the Gulf States, the Nature Conservancy, Oxfam America, and the Corps Network to encourage decision-makers in the Gulf Coast States to invest in large-scale environmental restoration and coastal adaptation that would create jobs and asking for state investment in worker training initiatives tailored to at-risk communities.
Patrick is President/CEO of BFA Environmental.
- Posted byon April 30, 2013 at 10:17 AM EDT
Lipo Chanthanasak is being honored as a Champion of Change for his efforts as a Community Resilience Leader.
I came from a place so remote most people would have trouble pointing to it on a map. I left school in Laos at sixteen to support my family by farming, fishing and hunting on the land that I loved. But the Vietnam War interrupted these peaceful pursuits.
To protect the people and the land I loved, I enlisted with a special guerilla unit alongside American soldiers. From the battlefield to the frontlines in the fight for our planet and people, I’ve never backed down from a just fight.
In 1978, under threat of captivity and persecution at home in Laos, I left all I had known. I lived in a refugee camp in Thailand until 1991, when I came to this country for the promise of freedom and opportunity.
As a refugee and new immigrant in the United States, I was excited to engage in a peaceful democratic process to affect the change I felt was important. I joined the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) to champion environmental justice, local renewable energy, and fair jobs. APEN not only works with Asian and Laotian communities, but also with other communities to fight for our rights, promote equal opportunity, and develop a stronger community for our children and many generations to come.
At APEN, we are doing what we can to accelerate America’s path toward a clean energy future.
We are hopeful that our leadership will move policymakers in capitals across the world to protect people and our planet from carbon pollution and the destruction of climate change.
In my 70 years of life, I have discovered that we are all willing to fight for what we love. Far from giving up because the problem seems too large, we must model what it means to love our planet, our country, and our home. We must demand clean air and good jobs. As a leader with APEN, I will continue tearing down the barriers to health and climate solutions and help communities in need.
Together, we can capture the best of the American spirit as community leaders battling for the Earth and the health and welfare of our fellow Americans.
Lipo Chanthanasak is a Community Leader with the Asian Pacific Environmental Network and has been championing renewable energy, pollution reduction and public health for the past decade.
- Posted byon April 30, 2013 at 9:55 AM EDT
Kimberly Hill Knott is being honored as a Champion of Change for her efforts as a Community Resilience Leader.
I served as a Legislative Assistant for Congressman John Conyers for over 10 years and now I am the Senior Policy Manager for Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice, the oldest urban environmental organization in Michigan. I have committed my professional career to addressing a myriad of social justice issues. Throughout my career, I have embraced the quote, “Emancipation begins with you,” which has compelled me to serve as an agent of change.
After attending the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, I began to reflect on the severe impact that climate change could have on urban communities, particularly Detroit. As a resident of Detroit, I fervently believe that urban centers should be heard and recognized in climate change discussions ensuing across the nation and around the globe.
In response to this evolving belief, I convened community, academic, government, and private stakeholders to form the Detroit Climate Action Collaborative. Through DCAC, I am working with a dynamic team to facilitate the development of Detroit’s first comprehensive Climate Action Plan in response to Detroit’s local climate projections.
Historically, most CAPs are initiated by cities and/or municipalities; however, Detroit’s CAP was spearheaded by Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice. In developing the city’s first CAP, we will document baseline greenhouse gas emissions from public and private sectors and translate this information into actionable mitigation and adaptation strategies. I am honored to lead the charge to accomplish this vision.
Kimberly Hill Knott serves as Senior Policy Manager at Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice.
- Posted byon April 26, 2013 at 3:09 PM EDT
Luis Miranda, the former Director of Hispanic Media for the White House Office of Communications, recently wrote an op-ed for USA Today sharing his immigration story – a story that begins with a young, undocumented kid, and end in the White House.
Miranda, who grew up with dreams of becoming a fighter pilot, tried to join the Civil Air Patrol when he found that he "needed a Social Security number and didn't have one," he said. "I began to understand what it meant to be undocumented." It was the 1986 immigration law signed by President Reagan that eventually opened a path to citizenship for him.
As Washington considers commonsense immigration reform, Miranda notes that most immigrants here aren't looking for a handout -- they're looking for the American dream:
Young people who grew up here, like I did, but who haven't been given the chance to earn their citizenship, face the prospect of ending up washing dishes rather than staffing our laboratories or joining our military.
A decade after I was sworn in as a U.S. citizen, I was sworn in to serve at the White House. What I've learned through the years is that citizenship is more than a certificate. It's about our responsibilities to each other and to our communities, and stems as much from Fourth of July picnics as from how we embrace the values that have made America strong.
- Posted byon April 22, 2013 at 7:30 PM EDT
Ed. note: This is cross-posted from the Department of Education Blog
Today GLSEN hosts its national Day of Silence—a day where students throughout the country take a vow of silence to call attention to anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools. I want to encourage all of us NOT to be silent on an important issue: the need to address and eliminate bullying and harassment in our schools.
No student should ever feel unsafe in school. If students don’t feel safe, they can’t learn. And if left unaddressed, bullying and harassment can rapidly escalate into even more serious abuse.
I want to remind students, parents, and administrators of the power of supportive clubs, like the Gay Straight Alliances or GSAs, to foster safe school environments. The Department of Education has provided guidance to schools on their obligations under federal laws to provide equal access to extracurricular clubs, including GSAs, as well to address bullying and harassment and gender-based violence.
Let’s work together to end bullying and harassment in schools.
Please visit StopBullying.gov and find additional resources from the Department of Education below–including school obligations under federal law:
- Equal access to extracurricular clubs
- Bullying and harassment
- Gender-based violence
- Sexual violence on college campuses
Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education
- Posted byon April 17, 2013 at 4:24 PM EDT
Ann Lee Hussey is being honored as a Champion of Change for her efforts in being a Rotarian.
I don’t recall ever thinking, “I want to change the world.” Today, I feel I am. Because of Rotary, I have been given the opportunity to become more than I ever dreamed of, to find passion I never expected to feel, to make a real difference in the lives of the world’s children.
As a child, I grew up trying not to think about my polio; as an adult, my challenges became the motivation behind my work to eradicate the disease. Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus. It invades the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis, and often death, in a matter of hours. No child today should ever have to experience the crippling effects of polio, a preventable disease.
I am grateful to have personally placed two drops of vaccine into the mouths of thousands of precious children. Traveling to distant lands, giving thanks to those who work constantly in the campaigns, creating strong advocates leading teams of volunteers, all the while inspiring others to do more, is the focus of my eradication efforts.
In 1985 Rotary International launched PolioPlus, the first and largest international humanitarian public and private-sector public health initiative. Today the Global Polio Eradication Initiative comprised of Rotary, the Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization and UNICEF has reduced the number of polio cases in the world by 99% over the past 28 years. The governments of the world play an incredible role and I give thanks for the more than $2 billion contributed by the United States. As a volunteer, I am proud to have had the privilege to be a part of our success; we must continue until we reach our goal and polio is no more.
Through my travels in the developing world, I have met thousands of polio survivors, witnessed their difficulties, and turned my attention to improving their lives. The work that lies ahead seems endless. It is estimated that between 12 and 20 million polio survivors live in the world today. In countries with weak health care systems, many are left struggling with their mobility issues. Even in our own nation, major needs are often not met. Joan Headley, Director of Post-Polio Health International cites, “Aging polio survivors as a group (estimated to be 750,000) now need and will need more and more the services of Medicare (hospitalization; physician care; access to treatment- pharmaceuticals and equipment) and for some (more than survivors like to think) Medicaid and availability of accessible housing, as the ability to do activities continues to decline.”
We all must do more. All children, everywhere, regardless of their color, nationality or religion deserve the right to healthcare and an opportunity to walk in a world free from polio. In the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “Our ability to work together is what will make our victory over polio endure. Because of what you have done and what we will continue to do until this dreaded disease is defeated, is come together like a family. Do what we do best, lift each other up.”
To receive the White House Champion of Change award is a tremendous honor.
Ann Lee Hussey currently serves on the board of Port Resources.
- Posted byon April 17, 2013 at 4:09 PM EDT
Neli Vazquez Rowland is being honored as a Champion of Change for her efforts in being a Rotarian.
As co-founder and president of A Safe Haven Foundation, I am honored to be named a White House Champion of Change. A Safe Haven Foundation is a non-profit social service agency and related for-profit social business enterprises dedicated to creating jobs and serving as employers to people with employment barriers. Since 1994, all of us at A Safe Haven Foundation have worked with a network of public and private partners to achieve a common mission: solving the issue of homelessness for people in need, one person at a time.
Since then, the vast majority of more than 44,000 people who were homeless have achieved self-sufficiency through the A Safe Haven holistic model. Consistent with the theme throughout our history to Aspire, Transform and Sustain, the individuals residing at A Safe Haven aspire for a stable lifestyle, transform through adult education courses and job skills training programs, and gain the confidence and skills to sustain employment and housing that allows them to support themselves and their families.
Over the last 19 years, at A Safe Haven we are proud to have designed a unique, vertically integrated "eco-system" that assists homeless individuals and families to pursue and achieve their God-given potential. The process is simple and rooted in empirical evidence. We assess and help people in need to address, alleviate and resolve the problems that led to financial crisis and homelessness, whether it is chronic or for the first time. Programming is assessment-driven and may include treatment, education, job training and placement, life skills training, financial literacy, and a myriad of other services structured to help each individual become self-sufficient. These changes also improve the lives of the families and break the cycle of generational poverty.
As we all know, the high cost of homelessness and poverty on our communities is manifested by high unemployment/underemployment, increase in crime, demand for drugs and illegal weapons, rampant violence, skyrocketing school truancy and dropout rates. We believe that nothing can replace the importance of empowering people with social and economic stability, which will help them break the cycle of poverty and provide them with the skills necessary to sustain long-term self-sufficiency. We cannot think of a better investment that offers a better return than investing in our most precious resource: people.
During this pivotal time in our nation's history when we are facing the many issues that result from homelessness and poverty, we are proud to be considered a national model and to have been noticed by leadership from other major cities across the country. For the first time at A Safe Haven, we are considering our options to expand the A Safe Haven footprint beyond Illinois.
We are blessed with outstanding support of proactive board members, partners, sponsors, donors, volunteers, professional staff, the business community and the community, at large. It is a privilege to be part of this life-giving organization.
Neli Vazquez Rowland is the co-founder and President of Safe Haven.