Champions of Change Blog

  • To Make the Best Better: Advocacy & Community Service is Not a Choice, it's a Responsibility

    Angela Robb

    Angela Robb is being honored as a Champion of Change in the Fight Against Parkinson's Disease.

    At the age of eight, I started my community service career. Hard to imagine that an eight-year-old would make such a choice. That is when I was introduced to 4-H by my mother who was a volunteer adult 4-H leader. The motto for 4-H is "To Make the Best Better.” For the next 10 years, I participated in all levels of community service through this youth organization. My passion for service was further enhanced by great leaders including local, state, and national adult 4-H volunteers and extension agents.

    During college, I volunteered at Potomac State College and West Virginia University (WVU) as a member of Circle K and Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity at WVU. My passion for community service is part of the reason I pursued a degree in political science with an emphasis on public policy and administration from West Virginia University.

    My most important role as an advocate and volunteer has been in service to the Parkinson's disease community for the last 19 years. When Parkinson’s disease (PD) entered my life, unlike most people, it was not a shock. I've never known my husband, Karl, without young onset Parkinson's disease. He was diagnosed five years before I met him, at the age of 23. We have been married for 19 years. I love my husband, but I do not love Parkinson's. We acknowledge PD is part of our life, but not the entirety of our life. I'm a carepartner. My husband and I decided, in the beginning of our relationship, that we are partners in this journey living with Parkinson's.

    Advocacy and community service is something I do every day. Whether I am posting PD resources online, emailing articles to support group members, speaking with caregivers over the phone, handing out materials promoting advocacy through the Parkinson's Action Network (PAN) at a an event, or helping a friend in need - I consider these actions as my way to make things better for my community. Helping and serving are a part of my daily life.

    When I am asked to speak to the community, I'm adamant about the importance of each caregiver/carepartner sharing and communicating their own personal story. Each caregiver has a unique circumstance we all need to be aware of. Not only does this help those of us in the community understand their needs but it also empowers the caregiver to know they are not alone. Being heard is vitally important. Many times caregivers feel isolated and that no one knows what they are going through.

    When I participate as a PAN advocate and share my personal story, I'm always quick to add that I'm also representing all those caregivers who are not with me today or have not had an opportunity to share their story. I cannot relay all the stories, but I truly feel that when I am speaking to legislators, medical professionals and scientists, they need to know there are so many unheard voices in the community.

    It is my goal to continue my volunteer work for the Parkinson's community. To make the best better for all the people I meet. To honor my husband and all those living with chronic illnesses. I'm deeply humbled and honored to be selected as a Champion of Change.

    Angela Robb is a Parkinson's disease carepartner and advocate living in Fairfax, Virginia. Professionally, she is president of TrueTip LLC and creative director for RobbWorks LLC.

  • Employers of National Service and AmeriCorps VISTA Champions of Change

    On September 12, 2014, President Obama announced Employers of National Service in conjunction with the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps. The President said, “If you’re an employer who wants to hire talented, dedicated, patriotic, skilled, tireless, energetic workers, look to AmeriCorps, look to the Peace Corps… Citizens who perform national service are special. You want them on your team.” 

    Since the announcement, hundreds of employers have answered the President’s call. And now, in 2015, we have another opportunity to recognize individuals and employers who reflect how national service creates a pipeline of employment opportunities. This year, we mark the 50th anniversary of the AmeriCorps VISTA program. VISTA started as part of the War on Poverty in 1965, and today remains a strong, innovative anti-poverty program that helps communities expand their capacity to address their most pressing challenges.

    We are combining the AmeriCorps VISTA anniversary and Employers of National Service to recognize the impact of this program and how those who serve continue to make a difference in their communities.

    We are inviting you to help us identify outstanding individuals and organizations (e.g. corporations, nonprofits, cities, schools) in the following categories:

    • Individual Leader:  Do you have a story about an outstanding AmeriCorps VISTA alum who built on his or her service by starting an organization or becoming an outstanding employee of a group that is fighting poverty? Help us shine a light on his or her story.
    • Legacy Leader: Do you know a VISTA alum who served before 1993 and is still making a difference in alleviating poverty? Is he or she a leader at nonprofit, corporation, or other group? Nominate him or her.  We want to have a mini-reunion with some of this program’s most amazing alumni.
    • Employer of Distinction: Do you know of or work for an employer that has hired national service alumni and thus created opportunities for those employees to continue to improve their communities? Nominate that organization.

    Please submit your nomination by Midnight on Monday, March 23.

    Click on the link below to submit your nomination (be sure to choose Employers of National Service and AmeriCorps VISTA Champions of Change in the "Theme of Service" field of the nomination form,

    Nominate an Employers of National Service and AmeriCorps VISTA Champion of Change.

    Liza Heyman works in the Office of Public Engagement.

  • Teaching for Tomorrow

    Craig Johnson

    Craig Johnson is being honored as a Climate Education and Literacy Champion of Change.

    Early in my career as a science educator, I attended a lecture on Minnesota’s changing climate given by a well-known University of Minnesota Ecology professor.  The concept of climate change was relatively new to me at the time, and I was startled to hear that some of the most dramatic seasonal, climate change-induced temperature variations in the United States were predicted to occur in Minnesota and the upper Midwest over the coming decades.  Was it true?  How did he know?  What could this mean for the places in Minnesota that are important to me?  Were similar impacts in store for the rest of the world? How much should I worry, and what, if anything, should I do about it?  Whether I realized it at the time or not, I was on my own path toward climate literacy.

    Twenty years later, as a teacher at the School of Environmental Studies (SES), I continue to work to understand the complexity of these questions and to challenge my high school students to wrestle with the implications of these questions in their own lives as well.  At SES, we embrace a mission that calls on our learning community to “develop active citizen leaders who are environmentally informed, self-perpetuating learners, and connected to the local and global community.” Over the past decade, climate education has played an integral part in bringing our mission to life.  This issue provides fertile ground for getting students to engage scientific concepts and processes in timely and relevant ways and, more broadly, to examine the systemic relationships between science, economics, politics, international relations, and ethics that are embedded in the challenge of fighting climate change.

    In order to prepare our students to be the next generation of effective citizen leaders, it is equally important that they have authentic opportunities to engage the issues that are important to them. 

    At SES, campus renewable-energy initiatives, climate-related school and non-profit partnerships, scientific modeling projects, and a host of student-led climate-change mitigation efforts provide testimony to the fact that our students are interested in learning about and addressing the challenges inherent in a changing climate.

    The societal challenges today’s students will face as adults will not be the same as those of my generation.  As educators, we have the responsibility to provide not the education we received, but the one our students will need.  For the past several years, students and faculty from SES and a variety of international partner schools have attended the annual United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties.  Members of the youth constituency at these conferences can often be seen wearing t-shirts with their now-familiar slogan, “How Old Will You Be in 2050?” It is a challenging question, not only in terms of the implications it has for the decisions we make today concerning the climate issue, but also in terms of the obligation we as educators have to provide our students with the knowledge, skills, and habits of mind they will need to effectively address the challenges of the world they will inherit. 

    Craig Johnson teaches Senior Environmental Studies and Advanced Placement Environmental Science at the School of Environmental Studies in Apple Valley, Minnesota.

  • Building Climate Resilience through Action Today

    Amy Snover

    Amy Snover is being honored as a Climate Education and Literacy Champion of Change.

    It is often said that we don’t know enough about climate change to take action. But we know that the choices we make today about energy use and preparing for a changing climate will shape the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. 

    We know that large reductions in global emissions of heat-trapping gases could help us avoid the most damaging impacts of climate change. We know that preparing for a changing climate can prevent needless and costly harm. And we know that many of the changes necessary to reduce the negative effects of climate change will take time to implement and would benefit from careful risk assessment, planning, and a sustained and engaged civic discussion about priorities and appropriate responses.

    We also know that none of us can solve this alone, within our silos, with our limited tools and skills. Building climate resilience requires melding the knowledge and prediction of science with the best ideas, creative energy, and practical insights of business, policy and planning, the arts and humanities, and community organizations. This is why it’s so important to build an educated, this-generation American workforce that grasps the climate-change challenge and is equipped to seek and implement solutions.

    Since 1996, I’ve worked with the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington’s College of the Environment to develop, deliver, and support the use of decision-relevant science on climate impacts and adaptation, in order to build a climate-resilient Northwest. I began as a student, on a leave of absence from my graduate program, searching for ways to better connect the analytic and predictive skills of science with the practical needs and multiple objectives of real-world decision making. After helping to convene the first-ever discussion of climate-change risks and response options in the Northwest, and preparing the scientific summary to support that discussion, I was hooked. This was the meeting ground I was looking for: scientists, resource managers, policy makers, citizens, and business leaders working together to identify concerns, critical knowledge gaps, and ways to use existing scientific knowledge to advance societal objectives.

    At the Climate Impacts Group, we take this multi-faceted approach every day.  We work with local, regional, and national decision makers, planners and resource managers, tribes, non-governmental organizations, and private industry to develop a common understanding of the ways climate fluctuations can influence desired outcomes, and to identify knowledge gaps precluding climate-resilient decision making. We assemble the best interdisciplinary scientists – atmospheric scientists, water-resource engineers, coastal economists – to address these gaps. Through trainings, technical advising, ground-breaking guidance, and long-lasting relationships, we build local capacity for applying science-based climate information, tools, and expertise in planning and risk management. And we’ve made a difference. The Northwest is home to many of the nation’s leaders in climate preparedness and resilience.

    Sixteen years after completing my PhD and re-joining the group as a post-doc, I am proud of all that we’ve accomplished together and am honored to be recognized as a White House Champion of Change. The most exciting part of all of this for me continues to be bridging the gap between science and practice – not only assembling, interpreting, translating, and delivering state-of-the-science understanding about climate risks facing the Northwest – because you can’t address risks that you don’t know about – but working with practitioners to develop guidance on how to apply climate information in their work today. As more and more people face the question, “What needs to change in the way we do business to set ourselves up for success as the climate changes?,” we’re ready to help them find answers.

    Amy Snover, PhD, serves as Assistant Dean for Applied Research and Director of the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington. 

  • Communicating Climate Change through Science and Interpretation

    Sarah-Mae Nelson

    Sarah-Mae Nelson is being honored as a Climate Education and Literacy Champion of Change.

    My family is made up of Southerners and outdoorsmen. Some called the Great Smoky Mountains home, and others hunt and fish as a matter of course. I grew up visiting lakes and streams, mountains and plains, and spending as much time near the ocean as possible. I attended church every Sunday and Christian school from kindergarten through my senior year of high school. I learned that to waste naught was to want naught. I learned to treat others as I would have them treat me. I was raised by strong, confident women who taught me I could do anything and everything I wanted as long as I worked hard for it. My father took the time to chaperone field trips and take me to museums and into nature. My mother was my best friend.

    It seems like I was born a scientist with endless questions and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. I read encyclopedias, looked at creek water under a microscope, and was fascinated by the ocean and weather. A marine biology teacher in high school recognized my potential and introduced me to the student volunteering program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I started volunteering in 1996 and was introduced to the field of science interpretation. Science interpretation uses knowledge of audiences and resources, combined with communications techniques, to translate complex information into accessible messages for general audiences.

    I was incredibly fortunate to train in interpretation concurrent with my undergraduate studies in marine science. Through interpretation, I learned how to communicate science to people who didn’t have access to the deep background knowledge I had acquired. Upon graduating from the University of California, Santa Cruz, I entered the field of interpretation working in museums and aquariums.

    Thanks to my upbringing in nature, I have always been aware of the environment around me. Through extensive readings, I was aware of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that indicated with increasing certainty that human activity was driving changes in global climate. In early 2007, an Aquarium colleague and I recognized that there was no one specializing in climate-change interpretation at our facility, and we decided to become the experts so we could fill that role. Over the next two years, the Aquariums and Climate Coalition was formed and hosted the first Communicating Climate Change Summit in December 2008. From this Summit, it was determined that climate change interpreters needed an online space to share ideas, and the website that would become was born.

    With funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Monterey Bay Aquarium partnered with the National Aquarium and New England Aquarium in 2009 to create training and interpretation materials to communicate about climate change and the ocean. As part of this effort, I was asked to become one of the first-ever Climate Change Interpretive Specialists. By accepting this position, I helped lead the charge to train volunteers and staff on how to most effectively communicate climate science, ocean acidification, and climate-change impacts to Aquarium visitors.

    Every day, I work with colleagues across the country to increase climate literacy through informal science education. I never imagined this was where my love of science and the ocean would take me, but I am so grateful to be here today. It is truly a joy to see understanding appear on someone’s face when they grasp what you are teaching. I live for those lightbulb moments and the change they mean for the world. There is a famous saying that tells us to “be the change.” I live the change I want to see in the world.

    Sarah-Mae Nelson creates specialized training materials focusing on climate literacy and interpretation as Conservation Interpreter for the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Online Community Manager for 

  • Empowering Teenagers to Fight Climate Change

    Amber Nave

    Amber Nave is being honored as a Climate Education and Literacy Champion of Change.

    In my family, I am jokingly called the “life-long babysitter”, not just because I have been a certified babysitter since the age of 12, but also because I genuinely care for youth and have spent the majority of my career in education. I enjoy working in jobs that empower youth and encourage their success. Some of my most memorable experiences in these positions include: teaching an autistic five-year-old gymnastics student how to tumble, teaching a second-grade, low-performing student how to read, and managing the day-to day operations of an afterschool program.

    It was not until I started working as a Program Director for the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE), in 2011, that I discovered how these diverse experiences would ignite my work in climate education. My experiences have taught me that in order to effectively motivate youth, you have to be an exceptional communicator.

    At ACE, we teach climate science that puts teenagers at the center of the story, communicating the undeniable science behind climate change. Our assembly presentation uses animation, music, video, and humor to captivate teenagers and educate them on the science behind climate change. This is the first step in inspiring them to take climate action.

    Next, you have to be willing to listen to their ideas and solutions for climate action. ACE offers every student an opportunity to engage through our Action Program. It is my responsibility to actively listen to students, find out their personal interests, and engage them in our program based on those interests.

    In my region of Georgia, many students enjoy working on climate solutions that embrace their interests in music, media, and performing arts. After listening to their interests, I organized opportunities for them to professionally record songs about climate change, blog about climate change and air quality in partnership with the Clean Air Campaign, and testify at an Environmental Protection Agency hearing.

    Overall, my experience empowering teenagers to fight climate change is a constant reminder of the hope that sparks the climate movement. It is young people who have the most to lose when it comes to climate change, and the most to gain by fighting it. I have found a true passion empowering teenagers to fight climate change, and I encourage you to join the movement. What will you do to fight climate change today?

    Amber Nave is the Georgia Program Manager for the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE), a non-profit that educates and inspires young people to break through the challenge of climate change

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