If you're old enough to read this, you're old enough to recall what you might call "big years" in your life. That is, years when big changes changed your life forever.
Examples: The years you graduated, got married (or split up), moved to a new place, started a new job, or welcomed a new child. When my wife and I look back at our lives together, we think of 2008 (the year we got married) and 2012 (the year our son was born and we moved into our house) as "big ones."
If you're reading this, you are part of one of those "big years" for VEJ.
It's a "big year" when your co-founder retires after 15 years as leader (2017). It's an even bigger year when you find out how your mission and organization will do under an all new staff team and a board that is 60 percent new members (2018).
Thanks to you, we found out that the VEJ family and mission are resilient and strong. You were part of making 2018 more than just a "transition year"; you helped make it a year of goodness, growth, and real impact.
Please take a moment to read our one-page 2018 report and 2019 outlook (at the end of this blog post). You'll get see what you supported this year and what is coming next year.
Then, if you like what you see, please be part of ending 2018 on a high note and starting 2019 on a strong one: Make a year-end gift to VEJ before December 31.
Board members, executive directors, and founders come and go. At a good mission organization, what stays constant is people like you. Nobody is more important to the VEJ family and mission than you. Thank you for being part of this!
If you care enough to find and read this message, you're exactly the person for whom I'm writing it. Read on!
Do you know what makes doing a job like "executive director" so good? Do you know what makes leading a mission organization like Voices for Earth Justice (VEJ) so great?
What makes being the leader of VEJ feel so good is this:
You and I may not know each other personally. But if you're this deep into this blog post, it's likely that you're the kind of person whose light and warmth is finding its way even to people you haven't even met.
That's kind of what a mission organization like VEJ is all about. You may not even live in the state of Michigan. But, through your relationship with VEJ you are blessing hundreds or thousands of people here in metro Detroit. If we do our job well, you are able to do more good through us than you could ever do on your own.
I hope that feels good to you. Know that it feels amazing to us!
So know that this Thanksgiving, we will be giving thanks for you - even if we don't know you! You truly are the reason we get up and go to work with a smile every day. Whether you're a donor, a neighbor, a program participant, a volunteer, or just a friend who prays for us from afar, you are part of this. You are part of us.
I (and we) are so thankful to be in this with you.
So, here is a thanksgiving prayer by Mary Maude Daniels. It is our prayer for you:
To our friends, who have become family
and our family who have become friends:
May you be blessed with the same love and care you've given us.
Grace and peace,
BT Irwin, primus inter pares
Voices for Earth Justice
November 21, 2018
You can think of this blog post as your first dinner invitation of 2019.
That's because next year we are making food the focus for the VEJ community.
Why food? What does food have to do with "Earth justice?"
First, what we eat has the biggest impact on the health and sustainability of our planet. Global food production accounts for 83 percent of the human race's carbon footprint! It gets worse: We throw away one third of that food every year. Just global food waste alone is a bigger carbon footprint than all the nations on earth put together minus China and the U.S.
Second, what we eat has one of the biggest impacts on which communities struggle and which ones thrive. For example, our global food production system makes food chain workers the lowest paid of any sector. Many of the people who bring us our food struggle to afford food for themselves. And their food options are often the worst for their health, contributing to higher medical expenses and shorter life spans.
Finally, eating is at the center of almost every faith tradition in the world. As a mission organization that seeks to bring people of different faiths together for Earth justice, what could be more unifying than sharing our food?
Here's a bonus answer: Everyone eats. Every person makes dozens of food choices every day. That means every person can learn to make better choices that are better for their fellow human beings and better for the planet. We want VEJ to be part of helping people make those better choices.
So, in short, eating is Earth justice. In fact, eating may be the biggest part of Earth justice. It is certainly the biggest part of most people's lives.
That's why food is our focus at VEJ starting in 2019.
So, what will that look like?
Over the last few months, our team has been working hard to create a program that will help you learn how to "eat for Earth justice". You'll get more details about these programs in January 2019.
For now, here are the highlights for you:
Celebrations and community meals
Several times over the next year, VEJ and its partners will host celebrations and community meals to highlight Earth-friendly eating and interfaith fellowship. These gatherings will take place at both VEJ's Hope House & Gardens and perhaps in homes and houses of worship throughout southeast Michigan.
Classes and workshops
You'll learn the nitty-gritty of Earth-friendly food, from "seed to table to recycling."
Our first class series on winter wellness starts in December. Check it out here.
Metro Detroit is home to some of the most innovative Earth-friendly food businesses and organizations around. These behind-the-scenes tours will open your mind to new ways of thinking about food. Odds are, you'll get to eat some good food, too!
Sustainable Organic Gardening Club
Building on our neighborhood garden program, we are launching our first "garden club." Members will learn everything about sustainable organic gardening, from "seed to harvest to table to recycling." Four modules will take members through the four seasons of gardening: winter, spring, summer, and fall.
Volunteering for discovery and hands-on learning
Our volunteers come to VEJ to do more than just help; they come to deepen their understanding and to learn. We are planning to host hundreds of adult and youth volunteers at Hope House & Gardens in 2019. Those volunteers will learn about the impact food makes on people and the planet. They will also get to know Earth-friendly food practices by "getting their hands dirty."
This is the one VEJ program that doesn't make food its focus in 2019. We believe the greatest gift we can give anyone is the gift of wonder. Nothing changes hearts and minds and fills them with kindness and love like a sense of awe. Monthly Wonder Walks will take you to some of southeast Michigan's most amazing natural places--some of them are not even open to the public! Both a nature expert and a spiritual director will guide the tours, making them one part learning and one part meditation.
Our first Wonder Walk is coming up on December 1. Check it out here.
VEJ Youth Club is an after school and summer program that is one part environmental education, one part leadership and personal development, and one part tutoring. Elementary school age children from the neighborhood come to Hope House & Gardens once each week to participate in a hands-on lesson on how to "eat for Earth justice."
So, now what?
Now that we "whetted your appetite," please stay tuned for more details to come in the next few weeks. We really hope to see you at one (or many) of these programs in 2019.
Meanwhile, as 2018 is ending, we are in the most important few weeks for fundraising at VEJ. More than half of our annual operating funds come from year-end gifts.
So, as you're going about your year-end giving for 2018, please make a gift to VEJ. You're going to make these programs possible for everyone they "feed."
I suggest you give via our Facebook page on #GivingTuesday (Tuesday, November 27). Gifts that we receive via Facebook on #GivingTuesday may be matched dollar-for-dollar.
Or, you can give anytime at our online gift page. Through the end of the year, PayPal will be matching 1 percent of every donation we receive on our website.
If you prefer to send a check, please make it out to Voices for Earth Justice and send it to 15894 Greydale Street, Detroit, Michigan 48223.
Thank you for being part of the VEJ community. We so look forward to seeing you and serving you at our table in 2019.
Grace and peace,
BT Irwin, executive director
Voices for Earth Justice
Consider signing up for one of the workshops listed above! Fight those winter blues with self-care.
Scarves, hats, and mittens are not the only defenses against the winter blues. Voices for Earth Justice is hosting a series of winter wellness workshops on the topic of supporting mental, physical, and emotional health with plant-based practices.
“There are different plants that support mental well-being like chamomile for calming nerves, as well as plants that treat physical ailments like ginger for stomach aches,” states VEJ garden leader L’Oreal Hawkes-Williams providing a few examples of herbs that boost health.
In this statement, Hawkes-Williams suggests resilient tea-brewing practices can be intensified by crafting concoctions from certain plants. Additionally, plants can be grown for the specific purpose of growing tea. If this is outside your comfort zone, there are amazing websites that provide ethically sourced, organically grown bulk herbs.
L’Oreal Hawkes-Williams, VEJ Garden Coordinator, states, “Not only does tea warm our bodies on chilly days, but drinking tea is a great way to utilize the medicinal properties of certain plants.”
The three one-time workshops that Voices for Earth Justice will host include tincture-making & tea-brewing, winter stew-making, and aromatherapy. We are focusing on activities that can be infused into daily life to enrichen and bolster health.
Each workshop will focus on one of these methods of brightening the winter months in a just and sustainable fashion. With background, instruction, and discussion, these workshops will provide not only educational resources, but also a space for community members to share their winter-resiliency methods.
“Learning about plants and how they naturally help us is fascinating and a great benefit to your body!” exclaims Hawkes-Williams.
It is possible to sign up for one, two, or three of the workshops by filling out the form via this link.
Young people enjoy carving pumpkins donated by Meijer! They took their spooky gourds to deck out their front porch for fall.
Over 40 old and new friends of Voices for Earth Justice gathered at Hope House and Gardens for the First Annual Harvest Celebration on October 13. Attendees of all ages enjoyed some of the best parts of fall: with food, cider, doughnuts, and pumpkins!
Keeping with this year’s focus on food, VEJ invited Chef Anthony “TK” King and Rosalyn Flint, founder and owner of Urban Country Teahouse, to showcase their talents.
Using squash grown in VEJ’s garden, Chef TK, made two dishes over the campfire: a savory and a sweet. TK pulled the spaghetti squash into a noodle-like dish. Additionally, he turned butternut and delicata squash into a cast-iron, cinnamon-flavored, sweetly-inspired dish. Chef TK added a dash of humor to entertain his audience, and sent them home with his recipes so they could enjoy them again and again.
Chef TK wasn’t the only one cooking. Five local friends brought their best homemade soups to compete in VEJ’s “Souper Bowl.” Guests sampled all five soups and voted for their favorite. Rukaya Abdallah’s spicy lentil soup came out on top while the other four cooks said “Wait ‘til next year!”
Rosalyn Flint engaged attendees in an informative and flavorful presentation about tea. After providing some background on tea, she dived into how people can grow their own herbs for tea-making. Additionally, she prepped and provided warm, satisfying tea samples, which bolstered spirits on a chilly October afternoon.
Taste, however, was not the only sense satisfied. Musical performances by Rachel Connors and Michael Feld enchanted with their talents: Connors rocked the keyboard.. Feld dazzled with technologically-produced jams.
The crowd of young people enjoyed the music and cooking, but the pumpkin carving station inspired the biggest smiles. Scooping goop from the pumpkins’ centers, drawing their creative designs, and using tools to actualize those ideas provided space for the kids to be both messy and innovative. Meijer’s contribution of the pumpkins made this activity possible. (Thank you, Meijer, for your donation!)
Even though the fall-themed decorations are tucked away until next year, the memories of Harvest Celebration’s joy and excitement are still fresh. The laughter and high spirits will carry VEJ’s staff forward as we plan a fabulous Winter Wellness Series. Look for more information about this series in the upcoming weeks on our website and Facebook Page.
Week one of VEJ Youth Club included pizza-making! Working together to cook made eating together even more fun.
Voices for Earth Justice Youth Club, a once a week after-school program for youth interested in exploring the topics of food and ecology in a garden space, began on October 2. VEJ Youth Club is open to young people ages 4 to 12 who want to learn about ecology, while getting help with schoolwork and practicing leadership skills.
To kick off the program, the first activity included goal setting and personal reflection with an “I am” project. The young people selected character adjectives to describe themselves, and arranged and glued the adjective slips onto a construction paper sun.
Other activities of the first week included making pizza, painting symmetrical butterflies & beetles, and playing a cooperative group game. Since then, VEJ Youth Club have completed nature art projects, a fall leaf chromatography experiment, a vermiculture science experiment, and cooking lessons.
At every VEJ Youth Club meeting, the youth cook a new recipe. They prep vegetables, season roasted squashes, and learn different cooking techniques. To complete every cooking lesson, we eat together in a group meal. Working on cooperative and collaborative behaviors, sharing meals encourages VEJ Youth Club members to listen, share, and create together.
In the future, VEJ Youth Club meetings will include several supported activities, including rewarded reading goal setting, seasonal vocabulary words, garden-centered educational activities, and upcycled crafting.
Thus far, Voices for Earth Justice Youth Club has eight registered children, ranging in ages 4 to 11-years-old. There is still room for three to five more children in our weekly after-school program.
We will continue cooking, eating, creating, and exploring at Hope House and Gardens with VEJ Youth Club through May. If interested in registering your child in the program, you can sign up by filling out this form.
Below is a reflection from community relations director, Julia Hall, on how the weekly summer youth ecology club rejuvenated her work and spirit. Above is a photo of the bird watching and identifying lesson.
TMany times this summer, a young person would run up to me, tug my sleeve, and ask with great excitement: “Is today Ecology Club?”
On Tuesdays, I got to answer: “Yes!”
And, so, Tuesdays became my favorite day of the week.
During the summer of 2018, L’Oreal Hawkes-Williams and I have been running a program, Ecology Club, for the neighborhood kids at Hope House. Our programming included cooking, ecological discovery, and instructive environmental lessons. Visiting experts, musician Michael Feld and Ron with Ferndale Fungi, brought additional wisdom to our Tuesdays at Hope House.
During these days of outdoor educational fun, children brought such color and vivacity to Hope House with their creative perspectives, mindful encounters, funny statements, and genuine desire to learn. They taught us much.
Together, we had loads of fun poster-creating, birdhouse-painting, mushroom-finding, nature-walking, music-making, seed-planting, aquifer-in-a-cup making, and tree-identifying. I was constantly reminded of the reinvigorating and nourishing way to approach the world: with the joy and wonder of a child.
Paint-stained clothes, thriving pumpkin plants, and colorful crayon artwork remind me what it means to just be with others, to explore with unwavering curiosity, and to open eyes to the world with childlike awe.
We will be continuing our work with the youth of the neighborhood with a new VEJ Youth Program that will include after school homework help, healthy snacks, gardening and cooking lessons, and leadership development. To register a young person in this program, please follow this link to our registration form.
Pictured above is Regina (left), our next door neighbor, and Lisa (right), a friend from the neighborhood grabbing a plate at the event.
On the evening of July 28, 2018, the sun spilt beams of light onto a gathering at Hope House & Gardens. Neighbors, friends, and Voices for Earth Justice staff and family gathered for music, art, laughter, and food in our garden space.
Forty individuals, including a few members of the Miller Grove Block Club, our neighbors down the street, as well as a few friends from other corners of Detroit attended the garden soiree.
For dinner, a table was spread with dishes that displayed the successes of the garden: bok choy salad, zucchini bread, and squash spread over flatbread. Our garden coordinator, L’Oreal Hawkes-Williams, has produced a diversity of vegetables that appeared in these dishes.
Marty DeNicolo from Christ the King Service Corps provided his musical talents on the banjo for a portion of the evening. For the rest, the rhythm of a jazz playlist entertained.
Other entertainment features included an interactive art piece, which depicted a natural scene on a large wooden board. The neighborhood children added their green handprints to fill out the foliage and grass.
Overall, Hope House Garden was full of earth-minded individuals celebrating the fruits of community. The garden, which is grown together, was celebrated by those who partook in its care.
Summer in the City Painting Crew are depicted at work making their design a reality on the VEJ front fence! Thanks for bringing all the color!
Summer in the City painted a mural on Voices for Earth Justice fence. With 26 volunteers, SITC completed the mural in three visits. SITC Paint Crew Leader, Jen Maiorana, led the group of volunteers and brought the materials to add color to our fence.
Summer in the City is an organization run by college students, supported by high school and college-aged volunteers, and works with youth. Their mission focuses on three p’s: play, plant, and paint. At VEJ, SITC featured their painting skills.
On site, Maiorana and Caleb Foerg, a member of the SITC crew, huddled around a table in the backyard of Hope House, designing the mural with immediate input from neighbors. These neighbors, including kids from the block, threw out ideas as artists drew.
The finished design depicts bumble bees, a house, a duck pond, a sun bursting with rays, an apple tree, and other elements.
Maiorana and Foerg transferred their design on the fence, opened up paint cans, and began the process of painting with volunteers.
As paint strokes were moving, volunteers swapped ideas about environmental justice while painting, noting their sustainability IQ and personal practices.
Volunteers engaged in environmentally-related conversations, neighbors gained a mural, and VEJ features the handiwork of these artists.
Please stop by, visit, or volunteer Hope House to check out the mural. We have open volunteer days on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and first and third Saturdays.