Let's start with some housekeeping.
A month or two ago, I posted that our board is working on new mission and vision statements. We got far enough along that the board was looking at a draft. However, after talking over that draft the board decided to put it on the back burner for now.
Well, it's almost spring...and we've got a garden to grow and friends and neighbors to bless, serve, and teach. That's a lot of work for a little organization like Voices for Earth Justice! For now, we are choosing to work with our friends rather than talk about words.
That brings me to the point of this post: The work we're going to do with our friends and why that work matters now.
One thing I'll share with you from the mission and vision draft we put on hold is this little mantra: Everyday Earth Justice.
That little mantra will guide me as I guide Voices for Earth Justice.
What does it mean?
I take Everyday Earth Justice to mean making Earth justice part of our everyday lives. As habitual a practice as brushing our teeth. It means doing Earth justice wherever we are, with whatever we have, and whomever we're with. It means changing our lives just a little more each day to be a little more just.
Truth: Ordinary people changing their everyday lives make a far greater difference than the biggest organizations with the biggest budgets and biggest programs.
So, when I think about Voices for Earth Justice, I don't think about how to make it bigger; I think about how we can help more ordinary people make more small changes that add up to a bigger difference in their lives and in our world.
Are you with me?
So, the question is: How will Voices for Earth Justice help ordinary people practice Everyday Earth Justice?
Simple: We ourselves have to do Earth justice wherever we are, with whatever we have, and whomever we're with.
Let's look at each of those things:
Wherever we are: Voices for Earth Justice has been in Detroit's Brightmoor neighborhood for almost seven years.
Whatever we have: Since 2011, we've cared for and cultivated Hope House & Gardens at the corner of Greydale and Puritan streets in Brightmoor.
Whomever we're with: We have a small, but passionate core group of donors, friends, neighbors, and volunteers.
So, then, Voices for Earth Justice will do Everyday Earth Justice by helping our donors, friends, neighbors, and volunteers celebrate, discover, and practice Everyday Earth Justice together at Hope House & Gardens in Brightmoor.
How will we know we're doing this well?
To answer that question, I believe we need to find answers to five other questions:
We don't yet have answers to the first two questions. This month, we hired L'Oreal Hawkes-Williams to be our garden program leader. Part of her job will be to help us answer Questions 1 and 2 so we can set some goals for 2018 and 2019.
As for Questions 3, 4, and 5, we set this goal: By June 30, 2019, 2,019 people will come to Hope House & Gardens to celebrate, discover, and practice Everyday Earth Justice. At least half (1,010) will be our Brightmoor neighbors.
So, in summary, we are setting two "mission goals" we want to accomplish by the end of Summer 2019:
Here's our plan to accomplish these goals:
What do you think? Are you with us?
If so, you have an important role to play in all of this. You can join us in practicing and supporting Everyday Earth Justice.
Here are three ways you can help today:
Helping 2,019 people--half of them Brightmoor neighbors--celebrate, discover, and practice Everyday Earth Justice at Hope House & Gardens is what we are all about in 2018 and 2019. Are you all about Everyday Earth Justice, too?
Join us! We are eager to bless and serve you as you work alongside us.
Grace and peace,
BT Irwin, executive director
L'Oreal Hawkes-Williams, a garden intern at Voices for Earth Justice in 2016 and 2017, will return as garden program leader in 2018.
As garden program leader, Hawkes-Williams will design and direct the master plan for gardens and green space at VEJ's Hope House & Gardens in Detroit. Gardening is the heart of VEJ's campaign to serve and teach 2,019 neighbors, students, and volunteers at Hope House & Gardens by June 2019.
"Few people know our garden or our neighbors better than L'Oreal," said VEJ executive director BT Irwin. "She has the experience and know-how to make the garden grow; she has the love and passion to help people grow along with it."
This April, Hawkes-Williams will graduate from the University of Michigan with a bachelor's degree emphasizing African American studies and sustainable food systems. She plans to focus her work on promoting and teaching food sovereignty--"the right of peoples to define their own agriculture and food systems and to produce healthy and culturally appropriate food through ecologically sound and sustainable methods" (Food Sovereignty Alliance).
VEJ is looking for special volunteers to be trained as garden crew leaders in 2018. Garden crew leaders will learn gardening plans and techniques from Hawkes-Williams and then coach and support groups of volunteers as they work in the garden. Garden crew leaders commit to 4 - 8 hours per month. Click here to sign up as a garden crew leader.
Support our 2018 garden program with a gift of money. Your donation will buy supplies and tools and provide support for people like L'Oreal and her team. Click here to make a donation (you may choose to make it in honor of L'Oreal Hawkes-Williams).
Freshwater Future hosted a most worthwhile and energizing water conference at Wayne County Community College in Detroit on March 19. Voices for Earth Justice participated as activists Geri Pleva and Carol Hofer represented us. They were among over a hundred other environmental activists and government representatives participating that day. Most presentations and discussions centered on water access, safety, health issues, affordability and efficiency of water infrastructure, particularly relating to the Detroit and Flint water crises. Geri and Carol are leaders in the Save Water Restaurant initiative which is a joint project of Voices for Earth Justice and the Adrian Dominican Associates.
By Sister Janet Stankowski, OP
What are we doing to our dear Mother Earth?
Are you shaken by yet another environmental disaster looming ahead?
This one dips into the Great Lakes watershed along the Menominee River in Wisconsin and Michigan, with Native Americans begging us to stop it.
The wounding and bleeding of the planet continues. A mining company is moving fast to gain permits for underground and open pit mining of gold and zinc only 150 feet from the river. Bad idea. Why? Because the terrible likelihood remains that sulfides and other pollutants and toxins will leak into the river and neighboring wetlands. No mine with toxic sulfides to date has been able to stop toxic leaks into water sources. It was suggested we gather together in a spirit of solidarity with the Menominee Indians, raising communal awareness of the sacredness of the river and the threat to Native Americans, to local townspeople, and to all wildlife in the area.
We were urged to pray with good hearts and minds, and with gratitude for the created world that has been given to us. We were asked to light sacred fires and pray for protection of all life, with special remembrance of those sustained by the Menominee River.
Carol Hofer organized a prayer gathering for this purpose in January in Roseville.
Pictured are VEJ supporters and the toxic river.
As of this date, the court has delayed the decision on whether permission for constructing the mine will be granted. Holy Spirit of Creation, help us.
Sister Janet Stankowski, OP
Board member and co-founder, Voices for Earth Justice
An "echo chamber" is an "enclosed space for producing reverberation of sound."
In the social media age, the term "echo chamber" now means enclosed groups of people who hold to the same opinion. When people in the group speak, what they share is merely an "echo" of the group's common opinion.
Echo chambers feel good when you're in one. People in the group applaud and pat you on the back. They tell you how you are right and righteous. Being in a group that is strong around a strong opinion makes you feel strong.
Yet recent studies show that echo chambers hurt:
Let's look at each of these.
Society is all of us living together in some order. We often have different opinions about how society should work or for what it should be working. Society works well when people with different opinions learn to give and take with each other. They understand that progress depends on society working well, so they are willing to give up some of what they want now to keep society moving toward what they hope it will become later. When we work together, we all move forward slowly. When we don't work together, we all fall behind very quickly.
Echo chambers break down society. First, they break down the relationships we need with people who are different from ourselves. Since we spend all of our time with people who agree with us, we no longer have friendships, rapport, or trust with people who disagree. This makes it much harder to negotiate progress.
We also lose the ability to empathize and see things from other points of view. We lose our natural curiosity and wonder. This not only affects our relationships with people who are different from ourselves, it ultimately affects relationships with people who are like us. As persons, we get better and better at being alone. We grow smaller and weaker rather than larger and stronger.
Echo chambers hurt society and they hurt ourselves. They also end up hurting the causes we support. Let's say we're passionate about the environment and we spend more and more of our time with other people who are passionate about the environment. But then we are spending less and less time with people who don't share our passion. Some of those people may be passionate about something else. They may be too busy with life to invest much energy and time in the cause. Other people may feel that passion for the environment is misplaced.
The truth is, people who are passionate enough about the environment to make it a full-time job or hobby are likely in a very slim minority. The majority of people probably care about the environment, but it is farther down their list. Another slim minority may be passionate about opposing those who make the environment their priority.
How will those of us who are passionate about the environment move society in our direction if we're only engaging other people who are passionate about the environment? If we're in an echo chamber with a few other environmentalists, what affect or influence are we having on the majority of people in society who aren't as passionate about our cause? What relationships are we forming and growing beyond ourselves to move society forward as a whole rather than just a small part?
For many years when I was either against or indifferent toward environmental causes, it was never about a deep conviction that I held on the matter. Rather, it was a reaction to the people I saw involved in environmental causes. Two really bad things happened: One, I saw those people in their echo chambers--banding together with other environmentalists to gang up on the rest of us. Meanwhile, I was in my own echo chamber with people who were closed-minded and stubborn.
In that kind of situation, no good was going to happen. Both environmentalists and people like myself were in their own echo chambers. We didn't actually know each other. We had no experience with the other. We never left our groups to get to know someone who was different from ourselves.
What progress could we hope to achieve in a situation like that?
If we really care about Earth justice, we owe it to our cause to stay out of echo chambers and do our work in and with society. That means we need to become friends with people who either don't share our same level of passion or who may actually feel like they need to oppose us.
It does no good for Earth and its inhabitants for us to merely feel good about ourselves; we need to give as many people as possible the chance to feel good about what they can do for Earth and each other. We need to be intentional about going out and spending time with people who are not part of our group. We need to be intentional about inviting and welcoming people who don't normally hang out with "environmentalists like us." We need to practice curiosity, empathy, and understanding. We need to be patient. We need to be practical. We need to look for ways to do a little for, and with, broader society rather than a lot for ourselves (to no good end).
Because true Earth justice is not an echo chamber; it's all of us.
Grace and peace,
BT Irwin, executive director
Voices for Earth Justice
Friends of Voices for Earth Justice gave $9,424 in November and December 2017, an increase of about 88 percent over the same period in 2016.
"It's really not about the dollars; it's about the people," said BT Irwin, Voices for Earth Justice executive director. "Our mission is all about helping people do things that will make a real difference to the Earth and its inhabitants. One thing that some people choose to do is give money. We're thankful for every one of those people!"
Funds will support 2018 learning and volunteer programs and the maintenance of Hope House & Gardens in Detroit.
"We've always run Voices for Earth Justice on a shoestring," said Irwin. "It's surprising how much this organization accomplishes with so little. You know when you give a dollar to Voices for Earth Justice, it goes a long way to making a really big difference to the work we do. Every one of our donors should feel great about that."
Plans are under way for the final fundraising campaign of the fiscal year (2017-2018) sometime in April or May.
Last fall, our board went on two retreats funded by a generous grant from the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation. Our intent was to do one retreat in September. At that retreat, we would come up with a plan to recruit new board members in 2018.
Our conversation that day made it clear that we felt unclear about some things. We knew the mission statement, but we couldn't describe our mission in action. The questions in the room that day were: "What do we do? How do we do it? Why do we do it?"
Good boards have conversations like this at least once a year.
Good boards also know that a mission statement is not a sacred text. A good mission statement evolves to meet the needs of the present and anticipate the needs of the future. After all, the nature of a mission is action toward some end. What should stay the same is the spirit of the mission and the beliefs and values that shape it.
At that September retreat, the board agreed that it was time to ask whether our mission statement--written long ago--is the right mission for right now.
The retreat facilitator pointed out that Voices for Earth Justice has no vision statement. That is: We aren't painting a picture of the world we want to help bring about.
We ended the September retreat with an agreement to hold a second retreat in December. At that retreat, we did two things:
While the board contemplated those things between September and December, I took time to ask a lot of questions of our two founders, Patty Gillis and Sister Janet Stankowski. I wanted to understand why they started Voices for Earth Justice, what they set out to do, and how they did it over the last 15 years.
All of this work last fall came together in a draft of a new mission and vision statement for Voices for Earth Justice. While the board is working toward adopting a final version of that mission and vision, I want to give you a glimpse into what is coming.
Four words capture the essence of the new mission and vision that are emerging from our conversations last fall: Faith, community, practical, impact.
Here's a little more about each one:
Faith. Voices for Earth Justice started as a faith-based ministry to communities and people of faith. When Patty and Sister Janet started the organization in 2002, they felt that communities of faith needed voices to speak up for the stewardship of Earth and its inhabitants. In the Bible, God's first command to human beings is to care for and keep the Earth and all therein. People who believe in the divine origins of all Creation have a God-given obligation to care for it. Voices for Earth Justice has always existed to remind people of faith of this obligation and to help them meet it.
Community. When the retreat facilitator asked our board members to remember a time when Voices for Earth Justice was at its best, every one of them painted a picture of community. There was the intense cooperation and volunteer work it took to build Hope House & Gardens. There were cookouts, potlucks and shared meals. There were celebration, prayer, and worship gatherings. We all agreed that Voices for Earth Justice is at its best when it is bringing people together. Indeed, the essence of our mission is to bring people into relationship with Earth and each other. That's community.
Practical. The most common question that came up during our board retreats and conversations was this one: "What do we do at Voices for Earth Justice? What do we want to help other people do?" We agreed that most people believe that caring for the Earth is a good thing to do, but that most people don't know how. Or, even if they know how, they don't know how to fit it into their busy, complicated, paycheck-to-paycheck, stressful lives. If people feel like they can't practice Earth care, they won't practice Earth care. So to help more people practice Earth care, how do we make Earth care accessible, personal, practical, and simple enough for everyone to do it?
Impact. This is where the rubber meets the road. How will the world be different because Voices for Earth Justice exists? What changes do we want to help bring about, directly or indirectly? Impact is a lot bigger than just our little nonprofit organization. It's the ripples from the pebble in the pond. So what ripples do we want to make and in which pond? Way back in 2002, Patty and Sister Janet came to believe that communities of faith have great influence on how people live their lives. They believed that if we influence communities of faith, we can influence the people who belong to those communities. Changing the way communities and people of faith think about and practice Earth care could have a profound impact on the world.
Our board will soon begin going over the draft. I'd like for you to have a chance to look at it, too, and give us your thoughts before the board votes to adopt it.
Look for that mission and vision draft sometime in mid-February.
Meanwhile, please keep us in your prayers.
Grace and peace,
BT Irwin, executive director
Voices for Earth Justice
Our New Year resolutions often seem to have a lot to do with what we want for ourselves. According to Google search statistics, the #1 New Year resolution at the start of 2017 was "Get healthy." The #2 New Year resolution was "Get organized." The next three resolutions had to do with learning new hobbies, living life to the fullest, and saving money.
I wonder if the individualistic and self-centered spirit of most resolutions on January 1 is the reason most of them fail by January 8. For instance, if "self" is at the center of a resolution to "eat better" in 2018, it won't be long until that same "self" falls for the instant gratification of eating poorly.
Most of the time, we set our New Year resolutions in isolation or we barely mention them even once to family and friends. When the self that wants instant gratification confronts the self that set the resolution, nobody else is around to come to the rescue.
So I wonder if it would make a difference to ourselves and to those around us if we made New Year resolutions a community exercise. What if each of us made a resolution to do something for the people and places around us? What if we brought family, friends, and neighbors together to share in it? In short, what if we made our New Year resolutions about us instead of me?
I think that's really the function of Voices for Earth Justice. When we're at our best, we are a community that encourages and supports personal efforts to practice Earth justice. In other words, if you resolve to be a better steward of the Earth and a neighbor to all those who live here, Voices for Earth Justice should be able and ready to help you do it.
Yet another way to put it: If you resolve to use your voice to make a difference, Voices for Earth Justice should be what amplifies and broadcasts it. How? By joining your voice to the harmony of thousands of other voices calling for Earth justice.
I think you can now see my New Year resolution for Voices for Earth Justice.
As executive director, I resolve that Voices for Earth Justice will move our society closer to Earth justice by giving you information, a support network, and tools to amplify your own voice. If you resolve to practice "everyday Earth justice" in 2018, Voices for Earth Justice will help you do it with people who lift their voices with yours in shared resolution.
To that end, my focus in 2018 will be on making our programs as practical and useful to you as possible. I want to make it easy and enjoyable for you to discover and learn about Earth justice--and then put it into practice and share it with the people and places around you. I want to make it simple for you to make the difference you want to make.
In January, I'm going to share an outlook and plans for how Voices for Earth Justice will amplify your voice and support your Earth justice resolutions in 2018.
As I write this on December 28, we are less than $1,500 from our year-end fundraising goal of $10,000. Our philosophy at Voices for Earth Justice is to "operate small, impact big." We believe we can make a big difference without growing a big organization. In dollar terms, that means that our $10,000 year-end campaign will fully fund one-fifth of our entire operation and programs for one year.
What does that means to you? It means that just as Voices for Earth Justice exists to amplify your voice, we also amplify your dollar. The dollar you give to Voices for Earth Justice does far more because it is a bigger part of our small budget.
Since we've already raised more than $8,500 in December, we only have about $1,500 to go before January 1. Your year-end gift today will make a huge difference.
So, make a resolution to use your voice for Earth justice in 2018. Then, make a gift to Voices for Earth Justice today. We'll amplify your dollar and your voice in the New Year.
Onward and upward!
BT Irwin, executive director