USGBC Illinois Coordinates Effort to Bring Community Garden to Chicago’s East Garfield Park
This spring USGBC Illinois announced the completion of New Horizons Community Garden, which is the collaborative outcome of an indoor/outdoor facility design competition tailored to Chicago’s East Garfield Park. The local partnership included CoreNet Global – Chicago Chapter, Openlands, East Garfield Block Club, East Garfield Open Space and Land Use Committee, First Church of the Brethren, Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance, and the Chicago Center for Green Technology, among others.
The Urban Open/New Horizons Garden Project began as the legacy project of the 2005 Greening the Heartland conference and allowed the USGBC Illinois Chapter the opportunity to bring green building knowledge and awareness to a diverse, new audience of community members in a resource-rich, economically poor Chicago neighborhood. Additionally, it enabled the chapter to expand its network of allies by pairing with community groups, membership-based organizations and other nonprofits.
For local residents, the New Horizons project would be a respite from urban life and a meeting venue for community gatherings. It would also serve to raise awareness and interest in greening the Garfield Park community by its own residents, as well as provide fresh produce through a garden on site, which was sorely needed by the neighborhood.
In 2006, the design competition served as the first phase of the project, bringing in 75 entries from around the world. The winning designer, Ryuichi Ashizawa from Osaka, Japan, envisioned a dynamic park project that responded to the ecology of the area, and engaged several sustainable building strategies. Additionally, it proposed opportunities to partner with the community and solicit neighborhood involvement in the future development of the project.
Once a design was chosen, USGBC Illinois sought community buy-in to begin development. In late 2007, the chapter brought together residents, the winning designer and other interested stakeholders to gather feedback about the plan. USGBC Illinois also provided an overview of some potential green building strategies that would be demonstrated in the garden and the community benefits of the project.
In an effort to make this park truly “of the people,” 10 high school students from the Open Lands Youth Garden Corps, a summer job training program for urban youth working in neighborhood gardens throughout Chicago, were hired to help construct the design and take on the responsibility of garden maintenance.
Chapter volunteers mentored the students during their first green building efforts, lessons the teens used when developing signage to educate the community with the help of 10 more students in a separate jobs training program focused on museum exhibit development.
“An important aspect of the project was the engagement of teens in the stewardship of the garden and in the development of the interpretive exhibits,” said USGBC Illinois Executive Director Doug Widener. “The project allowed students to actively contribute in the betterment of their community and to learn, firsthand, about the sustainable features of the garden. The Chapter also provided guest speakers to both introduce sustainable concepts to the teens and also to discuss their careers and career paths as a way to engage students in thinking about post-high school options for study and employment.”
The majority of the garden elements and planting were completed last summer, followed by a ribbon-cutting ceremony during a community celebration in August 2009. The community groups and residents participated in ongoing discussions about the long-term maintenance protocols that should be put in place at New Horizons. The final touches on the park will be completed in September.
Maybe the most telling indicator of the success of the project is how fully the local community has embraced the new garden.
“Both the local church and garden club have taken on active stewardship of the garden since its completion,” Widener noted. “The block club holds regular work days and engaged a local high school service learning group in weeding and maintenance projects this summer. The neighbors are extremely engaged with the long-term stewardship of the garden, which is a testament both to the vitality of the groups involved and also the process we used for continually engaging the community throughout the design and construction of the garden.”
Volunteer Profile: Amy Wortman -- Stepping up to the Plate
Amy Wortman’s interest in USGBC was sparked in early 2000 within the context of her former job. Years ago, when selling energy-efficient equipment, “green” and “LEED” were mere marketing points to Wortman. When Wortman “finally figured out what LEED was” in 2003, she felt compelled to get more involved.
At that time a local interest group was trying to found a USGBC chapter in Baltimore; Wortman saw her opportunity. She had always maintained an interest in improving the environment, and LEED proved an effective outlet. She departed her sales job soon after, but USGBC helped hone her idea of what she wanted to do for her career. Wortman now owns her own energy-auditing company and periodically consults on LEED for Existing Buildings projects. “Green” and “LEED” are now descriptors of her free time.
Wortman’s leadership trajectory began as a founding board member of the USGBC Maryland Chapter and programming chair in 2004. She was elected to the Northeast Corridor Regional Council (NECRC) the next year. She went on to occupy other myriad leadership roles at the local chapter level and the national level, including chapter board secretary in 2008. She was both education committee chair and regional council vice-chair when she began her Chapter Steering Committee (CSC) term in 2009; in 2010, Wortman has added Regional Council Chair to her volunteer responsibilities.
Despite her extensive leadership history within the USGBC community, Wortman says she’s never sought out the limelight. Ever humble, Wortman explains that she just pitches in where help is needed. In fact, this is what she perceives as her greatest contribution to the chapter network: stepping up to the plate when no one else was available to fill a particular void. Her selflessness and hard work earned her the award for Maryland Chapter Board Member of the Year in 2009.
Charles Tomlinson, USGBC National Board member and former NECRC member, has known Wortman since she served as vice chair then became chair of NECRC. “She made the transition without a hitch and has continued to lead the council in its continued growth to become a strong resource for learning and collaboration among its chapter members,” he said.
Wortman reports that the most challenging facet of volunteering has been making time for her extraordinary level of commitment. However, she has difficulty answering what her most significant sacrifice has been. She shrugs off the question, saying she hasn’t conceived of anything as a real sacrifice (though at one point she recalled charging chapter expenses to her own credit card when the young Maryland organization was trying to get on its feet). Instead, Wortman simply sees it as a way to make a contribution, to act when action is necessary.
USGBC staffer Meredith Kennedy is “consistently impressed by Amy’s drive to learn more about USGBC and green building education, in particular. She’s a quiet but very effective leader who is able to balance her business, family, and volunteer work without sacrificing attention to the smallest detail.”
It’s much easier for Wortman to discuss the rewarding aspects of her USGBC community involvement. She enjoys seeing the chapter’s hard work pay off in changes to public policy at various levels of government, particularly with regard to green schools. Consistent with the most devoted volunteers in the USGBC community, Wortman says interacting with the people in her chapter keeps her motivated. She’s extremely grateful to connect with so many people working to better the environment and appreciates that such a diverse group can coalesce for the sake of the green building mission.
She marvels that while several years ago the Maryland Chapter’s annual Awards Celebration hosted about 40 people, the last iteration drew a crowd of about 500. Witnessing that growth in an organization of which she is a founding board member has been her favorite memory as a chapter leader.
Wortman advises those considering chapter membership to avoid being “just a member.” She explains that merely attending events does not provide a person with the full range of benefits, nor the fulfilling experience of being a moving part in a dynamic organization. Rather, she encourages getting involved at the committee level. “There’s something for everyone,” she promises.
USGBC Northern California Hosts GreenerBuilder Conference for Subcontractors
On June 10, USGBC - Northern California Chapter held its first-ever
GreenerBuilder conference, which was met with smashing success, attracting more than 650 attendees, 20 sponsors and 50 exhibitors.
USGBC-NCC partnered with leading general contractors to address a strong need for subcontractors who possess the skills and training necessary to successfully complete work on LEED projects. In fact, LEED projects account for more than a third of the total California dollar volume of the event’s seven conference partners: McCarthy, Swinerton, Turner, Rudolph and Sletten, GCI General Contractors, Pankow and XL Construction.
CEOs and high-level decision makers from all of the general contractor partners spoke to a rapt audience of subcontractors about the importance of educating themselves about green building. Eric Foster, Senior Vice President of Swinerton Builders, explained, “LEED has become a core part of Swinerton’s business. In today’s market, if you do not understand LEED, you are falling behind. We embrace green building as best practices on our job sites and expect our subcontractors and vendors to do the same.”
Attendee Jeff Setera applauded the conference. “An environment of education was created through general and breakout sessions, as well as presentations of new products and services. Due to the large and enthusiastic turnout, the conference was also an excellent networking opportunity. The local chapter did an outstanding job in choosing the right venue, selecting informative industry presenters, and organizing presentation methods and materials.”
After the event concluded, Dan Geiger, the Executive Director of USGBC-NCC, said he was “inspired by and deeply grateful for the incredible commitment and hard work our general contractor partners put in to this important, first-of-its-kind green building conference for subcontractors.
“This partnership – including the participation of the firms’ executive officers, their comments in the opening plenary, and countless volunteer hours of organizing, curriculum design, and promotion by the partner firms’ talented and passionate team representatives – is a powerful statement that the future of building is green, and that the momentum is accelerating in all sectors of the industry.”
Creating Pathway to Job Opportunities in the Hard Hit Inland Empire
USGBC Inland Empire launched an internship program this spring that will provide educational work experience for emerging professionals and disadvantaged youths in the San Bernadino area. Meant to give students and young professionals involved in the chapter the opportunity to develop more employable work skills, the program will also provide avenues for building professional relationships though networking mixers, LEED tours, and green building presentations.
It’s a much-needed program in Southern California. According to Emerging Professionals Committee Chair Michael Peel, “The Inland Empire is one of the hardest-hit areas economically when measured by unemployment, foreclosures and lack of education. The vast majority of graduating seniors are unable to find work in a region where the unemployment rate of over 14 percent is second only to Detroit.”
This past winter the chapter received over 150 applications for 20 program spots after the coalition worked to market its efforts through local career service centers. Applicants specified their internship interests by topic: educational events, green tours and green jobs training. Eighty percent of the selected interns were non-members; the chapter raised funds for the membership dues for financially challenged participants.
Interns served at relevant local organizations, including The Frontier Project, Every Watt Matters, EnSave, Pomona Valley Urban Agriculture Initiative, the Inland Empire Green Employer Advisory Council, and Peel’s employer, Uncommon Good.
With the pilot program completed, half of the first group of interns is choosing to stay within the program by switching to one of the other areas for new experience. Two have taken jobs with nonprofits in the Inland Empire area, while another has become involved with EnSave’s Energy Audit Data Collector program. Others enrolled in green jobs training programs focused on solar installation and retrofitting. In addition, interns have been meeting with members of USGBC Inland Empire to discuss their career paths and learn more about their particular fields of interest.
Former intern Elissa Chang said, “This experience has helped me understand how everyday people can impact our environment and our lifestyles. I am hopeful that our world will be a little greener every day. USGBC is a great way to make an impact in people’s lives, and I am grateful to be a part of this journey.”
USGBC Inland Empire expects to expand the program from 20 to 30 people in this next round. The deadline to apply is Sept. 14. Applications will be available shortly on the chapter’s website.
Barrels of Hope
In response to the tragedy of the earthquake in Haiti, the USGBC Heart of Florida Chapter has partnered with The Sustainable Design Group and INDIGOGreen BUILDING Solutions to initiate “Barrels of Hope“ – a Haiti relief project dedicated to providing rain barrels filled with supplies to begin rebuilding permanent structures. This project is seeking community support to bring these desperately needed supplies to Haiti on an ongoing basis.
Water distribution has long been a problem in Haiti, and many Haitians made use of concrete cisterns, which were damaged and contaminated by the earthquake. Bottled and distributed water has provided immediate relief for the Haitians lucky enough to receive it, but it creates waste and is not a long-term solution. So in order to provide a sustainable solution to Haiti’s water problem, Barrels of Hope aims to deliver rain barrels that will allow the citizens of Haiti to set up sustainable systems for capturing water.
Each rain barrel will also contain enough materials to begin building what is known as an earthbag house. Stacked bags of soil or sand are used to build up the walls, while tarps make for easily replaceable roofing. These structures have already been utilized in Haiti, were proven to withstand the latest earthquake and are relatively quick and easy to build. A single family can be given dignified housing through earthbags for a material cost of $300.
In addition to their low cost, earthbag houses do not require any special tools, although shovels do greatly speed construction, and unskilled men and women are able to contribute to the construction of the house. Earthbag houses are also adaptable to local materials, so concrete waste from the earthquake can be recycled and reused to aid in the construction of these shelters. These houses will also be built using the Wattle and Daub method, which is an interwoven stick construction great for earthquake zones as well as hurricane zones because they move.
Earthbag houses will bring immediate benefits to the residents of Haiti, as having a secure structure to live in will help to lower stress levels due to enhanced security and improved privacy. In addition, these houses provide greatly enhanced comfort and protection from the elements compared with tents or structures made of cloth. Earthbag houses also have greater insulation value and thermal mass of earth as well as several roofing options, depending on the need.
Barrels of Hope has been a huge success thus far as the chapter has already reached its goal for donations. The first shipment of barrels is already in Haiti with enough supplies for about 40 houses. The first day of earthbag housing construction began on July 29. According to project blog, “Within the hour (of arriving in Kenscoff), about 35 men, women and even children from neighboring villages arrived after hearing that today was the day we were building.”
Barrels of Hope is transporting more than just temporary housing and water solutions; it is also bringing optimism to a nation in desperate need of hope.
If you are interested in learning more about Barrels of Hope or donating to the cause please visit the website.
Lessons Learned from Chapter Leader Superlative Award Winners
At the Chapter Leader Retreat in June, USGBC Chapters staff announced the winners of 13 different “Chapter Leader Superlative Awards.” The award categories were determined by national staff, but the nominees and winners were chosen by individuals who are active in USGBC chapters across the country. While many of the categories were fun and lighthearted (“Most Likely to Send an E-mail at 3 a.m.”), some were more serious, and there is a lot to learn from the winners who were selected.
Shawn Hesse, a founding member of the USGBC Cincinnati Regional Chapter, was awarded the “Social Equity Champion” award. On a national level, Shawn is a member of the USGBC Chapter Steering Committee Diversity and Community Engagement Task Force, which focuses on increasing the level of community engagement within the USGBC Chapter community. He also serves on the LEED Technical Committee Working Group on Social Equity.
Shawn sees social equity and green building as two priorities that are intrinsically linked. “It is critically important for the green building movement to embrace the full definition of sustainability and to begin fully considering social impacts of the design, construction, operation and occupation of the built environment,” he said. “We cannot reach a state of balance if everyone is not involved. If green building and green living are only considerations of the wealthy and powerful, we will never effect the scale of change required of everyone.”
Shawn points out that there are plenty of people who care about the environment and want to protect it who aren’t working in the architecture, engineering, or building trades. “If we think USGBC has a strong voice in the green building movement now, imagine how much stronger it will be when we add soccer moms, labor unions and apartment renters to our choir,” he said.
For Brian Bumann, vice-chair of the Charlotte Region Chapter and winner of the “Most Likely to Grow Your Own Food” award, everything is easy to grow if you truly want to grow it on your own. Brian has been tending his prolific backyard garden for 12 years. Brian plants and harvests a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables, although he’s tried rhubarb with no luck (he thinks it’s too hot in North Carolina). He plans to expand into free-range chickens and potatoes next year.
Brian advises aspiring backyard gardeners to start with having their yard soil tested by a local agriculture department and make adjustments as needed, or create raised beds. He also cautions that in order for a backyard garden to flourish, it needs a lot of personal attention. Brian uses no chemicals or pesticides in his garden. “If you think you need them, you’re not giving your garden enough TLC,” he says. Watering is also critical. Brian maintains that there is nothing better than rain water and suggests that every backyard gardener invest in a rain barrel.
Another volunteer chapter leader from the Charlotte Region Chapter, Chris Butlak was the winner of the “Fantastic Fund-raiser” award. According to chapter chair Sara O’Mara, Chris was a primary force behind a sponsorship drive earlier this year that has made 2010 the most successful year in terms of fund raising in the chapter’s history. “Chris is a fabulous board member,” said Sara. The sponsorship drive centered on a phone campaign, and making fund-raising calls can be outside some people’s area of comfort. “Chris was a great motivator of volunteers making the calls. He worked with our Communications Committee on messaging and developing a script for volunteers to use when they were calling potential sponsors,” Sara added.
The winner of the “Social Media Innovator” award was Elaine Hsieh of the Northern California Chapter. Elaine strongly advises all nonprofit organizations to utilize social media tools in order to promote their mission and communicate with their stakeholders. “Social media tools are a means to distribute information, generate support and foster community,” said Elaine. “They are also an invaluable means of networking. Nonprofits need to leverage social media for all of these reasons.”
“The three key platforms to explore at present are Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn,” said Elaine. “Others include YouTube, MySpace and Flickr. There are also a few others in the green space, like Paul Hawken’s ‘Wiser Earth.’” But perhaps the greatest value Elaine has gained as a chapter leader is to be able to spend time listening to what their constituents are saying.
“Identify influencers and people who are interesting, and look at what they’re doing,” she said. “Talent imitates, but genius steals.”
You can follow the Northern California Chapter on Twitter.
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