Wonder Walks, one of the popular new programs VEJ launched in 2019, will return this summer (as soon as it is safe for groups of 12 - 24 to gather outdoors).
The program takes participants to some of southeast Michigan's natural wonders and blends the experience of going on a guided nature walk with the experience of a guided spiritual retreat.
"Wonder Walks are a beautiful mix of the first two parts of our mission: Prayer and education," said VEJ executive director BT Irwin. "They get something for their bodies, hearts, and minds all at the same time. Plus, they explore a lot of new places and make a lot of new friends."
Irwin said VEJ is waiting for the State of Michigan to release new guidelines for groups of more than ten to gather in outdoor spaces. Once those guidelines are set and VEJ finalizes plans for the safety of its guests, Wonder Walks will start up quickly.
"We expect to be hosting Wonder Walks this summer," said Irwin. "And I think people will be ready for them."
The 2020 Wonder Walks calendar that was not released (because of COVID-19), included the following locations:
"We'll likely visit most of the locations we planned to visit this year," said Irwin. "We have to work with our guides to make the new schedule. We're hoping to have that no later than the start of June."
In 2019, Community Dinners at Hope House & Gardens were one of VEJ's most popular programs. On the first Sunday of each month, guests gathered in the backyard to enjoy food made by a local chef and a presentation by an Earth justice expert.
The program was set to return in 2020 until COVID-19 make it unwise to host groups of people in close contact for the foreseeable future.
But using technology, VEJ is launching Sunday Dinners, a virtual dinner party program similar to Community Dinners, this June.
"COVID-19 is not an excuse to stop our work," said VEJ executive director BT Irwin. "In fact, it's a challenge to us to find ways to do more. After all, the pandemic only makes it more clear that Earth justice is the issue of our time and we can't put it off. We have to rise to whatever challenges come at us because everything is at stake."
Sunday Dinners will work a lot like Community Dinners at Hope House & Gardens.
Guests will sign up in advance (joining the dinner is free) to receive an invitation to join the event in a private group meeting on Zoom. The private feature is for security.
The dinners will take place on the first Sunday evening of each month starting in June. An Earth justice expert will present for about 20 minutes on a topic of interest, then take questions from the guests. Using one of Zoom's special features, guests will be able to participate in "table discussions" (small group discussions about the topic).
Of course, guests will be responsible for their own food at home, but VEJ is working on a way to help with that, too.
"We're looking to set up some special discounts or promotions from local farmers, food stores, or restaurants so dinner guests can enjoy something special together," said Irwin.
The first Sunday Dinner will take place on Sunday, June 7, at 6 p.m. and will feature Deborah Anderson of Zero Waste Detroit as the guest speaker.
The full calendar of guest speakers will be arrive in the May VEJ News (sign up here).
When 2020 began, VEJ planned a calendar full of in-person gatherings.
COVID-19 changed all that.
As it becomes less likely that people will feel safe in gatherings of more than a few people, the question is: How does VEJ keep doing its work of "prayer, education, and action for Earth?"
One answer: Start a podcast.
This summer, VEJ will launch the Voices for Earth Justice Podcast, a weekly conversation with Earth justice experts and practitioners.
"Almost one in five Americans listen to a podcast every week," said VEJ executive director BT Irwin. "That's almost 70 million people for whom podcasting is a normal way to expand their worldview and learn about new things."
Irwin added that podcasting tools cost little, are easier than ever to use, and make it possible to interview guests from anywhere in the world.
"The most important thing we can do at VEJ is give more and more people information and inspiration to go work for Earth justice," said Irwin. "Podcasting allows us to reach and serve more people in more places by exposing them to some of the best ideas and most effective leaders in Earth justice work. There is a lot of value in this."
Podcasting also just makes sense in the age of COVID-19.
"Up until now, we depended on getting people together at a physical location," said Irwin. "Don't get me wrong; there is a lot of value to that and we'll do it again as soon as we are able. But physical gatherings are limited in who you can bring to speak and who can come to participate. Online programs and podcasts open up so many new possibilities."
The Voices for Earth Justice podcast will launch this summer and be available on all major podcasting services. Watch for more details, including guest schedule, in VEJ's monthly newsletter (sign up here).