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.
Voices for Earth Justice welcomes Erma Leaphart and Vito Rosolino! As of June, these two highly qualified persons have accepted positions on Voices for Earth Justice’s board of directors.
“Voices for Earth Justice is all about people: connecting people to one another, to the earth, to the Creator,“ Rosolino reflected.
Rosolino has been with Ferndale Electric Company for over twelve years, serving as Project Manager. Having completed his LEED AP BD+C certification, Rosolino specializes as a Sustainability and Service Manager at Ferndale. Additionally, Rosolino has been integrally involved with the U.S. Green Building Council for years, and currently serves as a Market Leadership Advisory Board Member. This dense resume of environmental endeavors reflects the developed savvy that Rosolino brings to VEJ.
Leaphart, too, has a resume full of achievements in the environmental field. For the past four years, Leaphart has worked for the Michigan branch of The Sierra Club as the Conservation Associate Organizer of the Great Lakes Program. Holding a Master’s Degree in Public Administration-Health Care Administration, she possesses expertise and experience that will enrich our board of directors.
While sitting on a panel in 2017 for the Great Lakes Bioneers Detroit at Marygrove College, Leaphart declared, “Today, I am unabashedly an environmentalist. I am a proud mother of two. I am still a proud resident of The City of Detroit. Someone who embraces the notion that love reigns supreme.”
In a similar spirit to Leaphart’s thoughts on love, Rosolino responded to a question about what excites him about VEJ, “Humans are the stewards of this planet, and to have the opportunity to reach people with a positive message about life, love and light is an exciting thing.”
Rosolino and Leaphart bring years of experience, Earth enthusiasm, and passion for relationally connecting with people. During a time of growth and transition, Rosolino and Leaphart mark the continuation of VEJ’s efforts towards building an environment for flourishing.
Rosolino stated, “I have seen that Voices for Earth Justice’s mission, boiled down to the least words necessary, is to Love people. And I am excited to be part of that mission.”
Community Relations Director Julia Hall reflects on how food systems can be revolutionized with intentional community meals.
Pull up a chair to the table that holds food grown by the hands of those who are eating. Come to the table. Eat. Partake in the splendorous ritual of sharing a meal.
Eating does not start at our refrigerators, but instead consumption reaches into the depths of our food system and ecosystems.
The farm to table movement is a transformational concept, but I would like to push further. Can you imagine a revolutionized food system that flourishes from backyards to tables with individuals planting their own food, sharing with neighbors, and growing together as community to reconnect with Earth, food, and neighbors?
The power of communal meals lies in the physical, social, and spiritual nourishment of gathering around food. By engaging our communities in sustainable practices and collective learning, we can strengthen the resiliency of our neighborhoods, our families, our friends, and our spirits.
Garden Coordinator L’Oreal Hawkes-Williams has brought much to the table. Her demonstration garden design, featuring permaculture tactics and a diverse vegetable and herb collection, is revolutionary. Her work reminds us to not only to munch on delicious meals, but to mindfully consider and celebrate the story of how those vegetables landed on our plates.
Let us plant. Let us eat. Let us grow. Together.
Voices for Earth Justice’s Garden Coordinator, L’Oreal Hawkes-Williams, has been designing and installing a new permaculture feature in the VEJ gardens. With the help of volunteers, her vision and design are now finished with plants growing in the new garden bed.
Hawkes-Williams explains, "The term "permaculture" is a combination of the two words: permanent and agriculture. The the merging of the two words describes exactly what the main concept is!--utilizing more permanent forms of agriculture like planting regionally and designing closed-loop systems that can sustain our needs and future generations without depleting the Earth's resources."
Permaculture tactics provide a solution to unwanted biomass and yard waste. Utilizing these methods has the power to transform undesired materials into purposeful, nutrient-rich garden beds. Not only do these tactics provide an alternative to disposing of yard waste, but these practices also can be used to develop richer soil, extend the growing season, and reduce watering care.
The type of feature that has recently been implemented at VEJ is called a hugel bed. The construction of this feature began with the creation of a divet, a canal-like area, as a foundation for the vertical layering of biomass. After creating the foundation, Hawkes-Williams and volunteers layered logs, sticks, leaves, and compost. To finish the project, the the group added gardening fabric to keep the compost from eroding.
Last week Hawkes-Williams, neighborhood kids, and family members planted out the bed with vegetables, including lettuce, watermelons, onions, and garlic. Together, the many hands that participated in the creation of the hugel bed demonstrated the ability of humans to collectively care for Earth.
While permaculture embodies this practical wisdom of sustainable living, the practice also possesses a sacredness. It is the intentional, holistic observance of the world and Earth that draws forth a spiritual care for creation.
"When I think about permaculture, I think about sustainability and conscious ecosystems. By "conscious," I'm referring to intention and mindfulness," Hawkes-Williams states.
Hawkes-Williams' thoughts on intentionality align with the writings of a Dominican Sister: Carol Coston. In her book, Permaculture: Finding Our Own Vines and Fig Trees, Coston writes, "Permaculture's Earth-care ethic has special resonance with me because it embodies much of what I hold as spiritual truth--particularly its inherent call for us to live in consideration of the common good of all creation."
The permaculture component of the demonstration garden at Hope House provides an incredible example of how earth care practices--both physical and spiritual--can be implemented. Further, the hugel bed shows how gardening and creating good, rich soil is an accessible self-sufficiency practice.
Hawkes-Williams provides some suggestions for permaculture practices, "So what does that look like? Well, you could plant native fruit bushes and trees--things that will produce year after year. There is agro-forestry as well as earthworks. You also could recycle all organic materials by composting or building hugel beds. If you look up the term permaculture, you'll get many different answers, but they all revolve around the same concept."
Developing soil, composing garden beds, and growing fresh vegetables takes time, but is a relatively inexpensive way to enjoy healthy food, connect to the earth, and reflect on our presence in the world. Give permaculture a try!
Keep an eye out for a post about the implementation of compost-bin construction. The designs are drawn. The space is cleared. Soon we'll be making our own soil supplements.
During the week spanning from June 25 to 29, Voices for Earth Justice was humming with volunteers. At the end of the week, these volunteers had devoted a total of 587 hours of their time to VEJ. While we had large number helpful people from multiple different organizations, one program in particular, Young Neighbors In Action, spent the entire week at our site.
The group from YNIA, consisting of seven high school students and two adult chaperons, hailed from Dayton, Ohio, and brought much more than their hard-working hands to VEJ. They brought their spirits. Effusing energy into the structure, gardens, and atmosphere of VEJ, this group’s aura beamed with a light of kindness, generosity, and ingenuity. Together, they complimented each other’s strengths and laughed with gusto.
Shelia and Sonia, the fabulous chaperone duo, balanced the lightness of a fun time with the working spirit of doers. Their photo-shoot interjections brought a whimsy to the day, as well as much needed breaks between raking leaves, cleaning and sorting the Hope House, and painting.
A few students in the group became especially interested in the re-envisioning the front room of Hope House, which prior to their work functioned as a storage room. After clearing out the space, the group used donated paint, roller attachments, and door handles to give the space an inviting freshness. Further, they laid down alphabet-themed foam tiles provided by cofounder and board member Sister Janet Stankowski to create a clean, fun space.
Not only were these volunteers creative rock-stars, this group engaged and played with our frequent visitors: the neighborhood kids. While making God’s Eyes and splitting peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, these volunteers took the time to listen, to be present, and to laugh with our neighbors. They brought a spirit of intentionality, openness, and fun to hot days of hard work.
After a long week of sweating and paint-splattering, Friday brought a day of finishing projects and reflection. On the last day, YNIA came to VEJ with the theme of “Love.” Inspired by Pope Francis’s message of radical love, they showed up with hearts overfloweth with this message ready to conclude their week.
The celebratory finale consisted of bubbles, ice cream, and reflections. Giggles of both volunteers and neighbors mingled in the air to create a magical moment filled with shimmering bubbles and chocolate-smeared smiles. Last minute photos were matched with goodbye hugs and thanks. As their vans drove away, carrying away some new, dear friends, their spirit stays with us at VEJ, inspiring our work. Their presence touched my heart, and for that I am thankful.
On the Saturday of Father’s Day Weekend, The Hope House and Gardens were open to Voices for Earth Justice friends and family for a picnic and permeable pavement demonstration. The educational program addressed information concerning water resources and management.
EcoGranite’s David and Maggie Popp organized and gave a presentation about their granite product, which included an example of the granite permeable pavement that they sell. All of the granite and binding in EcoGranite's products is made of recycled materials. This permeable pavement is a sustainable, green alternative to impermeable concrete paving. This allows stormwater to slowly filter through and return to the ground.
While water cycled through the filtration system demonstration, David Popp spoke on his area expertise: how water management systems function (particularly, Michigan water management). He covered the interconnectedness of water systems, specifics regarding permeable and impermeable surfaces in Detroit, and provided options regarding how to save money on stormwater billing through installing permeable surfaces.
The wastewater system in Detroit is a combined stormwater and sewer system. Therefore, the water that hits impermeable pavement—that could be infiltrated and returned to the groundwater system if it hit a permeable or porous pavement—flows into the drainage system and is treated as sewage. Popp also noted that sewage must only be treated because humans have added water to it.
The engaging presentation resulted in the audience having several questions. Many questions related to the cost of installing an EcoGranite surface. While Popp noted that it is quite expensive, there are resources from the City of Detroit that supplement non-profit, faith-based, and business owners who would like to choose this environmentally friendly paving. The City of Detroit is allocating $5 million dollars to install Green Water Infrastructure for non-residential property owners.
If you are a resident, there are a few small steps that you can take to conserve water if you are not able to afford installing impermeable pavement:
1. The Three Hour Test:
-Check your house for leaks by checking your water meter, turning off and stopping water usage for three hours, and checking your meter again. If you the number goes up, then you have a leak.
2. Don’t litter! :
-By picking up trash, you can keep it from flowing into our water systems and polluting them.
3. Cut your shower short:
-Shortening your shower short by a minute or two, you will save up to 150 gallons of water per month.
Chloe reflects on her second week at VEJ, and she notes her progress with her research project.
My community placement is with Voices for Earth Justice. VEJ is an interfaith organization, focused on environmental activism. They own property in the Brightmoor neighborhood where they manage Hope House and Garden. VEJ has been involved in many different projects and campaigns since their inception in the early 2000s. I’m so excited to be working with this non-profit because I really love thinking about the intersection of faith and environmentalism. VEJ believes that faith, no matter what kind, and a connection to nature leads to motivation to preserve and protect the earth. The prefer motivating change through these connections, rather than focusing on what is wrong in the world.
My summer research project for VEJ has to do with the mission of the entire organization, which is in a time of transition. My task is to determine exactly what role Voices for Earth Justice has in the community of Brightmoor. Being a small organization, it is important for us to find a specific niche that we can fill really well. I will be conducting interviews with past and present members of VEJ, as well as speaking with community members. I’m excited for the opportunity to learn about the Brightmoor community and learn how to best fit into their landscape.
My first week went really well. Everyone in the office has been welcoming, and I’ve had a really fun time at the Hope House Garden. It’s nice to be able to work outside twice a week to break up the office time. I’m so excited to continue to learn from my community placement.