Around the Table with Kate Mueting

Welcome to Around the Table, a regular series where we talk to people in our network and share the incredible work they are doing in their industry. Pull up a chair and join us for conversation and connection.

Name: Kate Mueting

Company: Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP

Where to Find You: LinkedIn

What drew you to working within the gender equality and equity space?

I am passionate about social justice and equality.  I don’t like being told I can’t do something, and when someone tries to limit or stereotype me or other women I get really fired up.  I feel very fortunate I get to “fight the good fight” on behalf of my clients every day in my work.

As the co-chair of your firm’s Discrimination and Harassment Practice Group, how do you represent the voices of people that do not have the resources to defend themselves? 

Regardless of someone’s level of resources, I find that people are nervous to raise a concern at work.  People fear they may be retaliated against by being criticized, marginalized, or even fired.  And work is so important in our lives.  In addition to a paycheck, work provides many with meaning and purpose and identity, as well as health insurance or even visa opportunities.  Even people in very bad discrimination and harassment situations are reluctant to risk all of that by going it alone. 

In representing them, I educate them on how the law protects against discrimination and retaliation.  I give them tools to protect themselves in communicating with their supervisors.  I intervene and request an end to the discrimination and better treatment for everyone, as well as monetary relief.  And I do so on a contingency basis, so people do not owe me anything unless I am able to recover something for them. 

Do you have recommendations for organizations and businesses to create inclusive environments that don’t leave themselves open to litigation?

The Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California Hastings College of Law has published best practices for businesses that want to prevent discrimination based on family responsibilities, and I also think the recommendations apply more broadly.  They include, for example, raising awareness of discrimination through training, conducting audits to assess your personnel policies to ensure that they are fair and not hindering diversity at your organization, and holding managers accountable for their diversity and inclusion efforts.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has also published tips that include having clear policies stating that discrimination will not be tolerated and providing channels for employees to report concerns.

What’s the best advice you’ve received in your career?

When I was an extern at a federal agency, the General Counsel advised me to avoid saying no. Instead, they told me to figure out what someone actually wants and learn how you can get to a yes.  I think having that solution-oriented mindset has enabled me to get successful results for my clients. 

How do you make time to prioritize your own mental health and self-care?

I am a first-time mom of a one-year-old, so I am having to learn this all over again!  I love going on long walks with my daughter in the stroller and connecting with friends and family over the phone or listening to an audiobook.

If we were literally around the table right now, what food would you have brought to share and why?

I would have brought a green salad because the arugula, kale, and lettuce in my husband’s backyard garden is really exploding right now!  And red wine.

An Update on Avid Core’s Commitment to Racial Justice and Ending Systemic Racism

This time last year, outrage and calls-to-action against racial injustice, violence, and hatred spread across the globe after the tragic murder of George Floyd – among countless other victims of systematic racism and hatred. Simultaneously, the deadliest pandemic of our lifetime brought to light how inequities within our health care system impact historically underserved and marginalized communities.  We witnessed violence and saw an alarming surge of hate crimes against Asians and Pacific Islanders. And, while we recognize that much of what we saw sparked a “reckoning” of some sorts, we acknowledge that these injustices are not isolated incidents, and that we have seen similar calls to action throughout history. The important work that goes into ending systemic racism is critical and long overdue.  

At Avid Core, we take our corporate responsibility seriously. We made a commitment to advancing the cause of racial and social justice and doing our part towards eradicating systemic racism by identifying opportunities for growth and working to improve our hiring and workplace practices, support our team, and advocate for change in our community.  

We made it clear that we wouldn’t stop at just promising to be better—we’re reaffirming that commitment today, recognizing that there are gaps within our company that still need to be addressed, and providing an update on our progress.

Here are some ways we’ve upheld and expanded on our promises from one year ago:

#1 Implementing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Workplace

We’ve developed and implemented a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) plan that is shaped by feedback from our whole team and will be routinely reviewed by a third-party expert to ensure our plan is practical and executed. We intend for the DE&I plan to serve as a living document that provides guidance and ways to measure our progress toward building a workplace that works for all. Some of the goals and metrics included in our plan are:

  • Creating an inclusive environment where all staff members are provided equal weight into management decisions
  • Providing for staff members to celebrate additional holidays, including a paid day off on June 11 to celebrate Pride Month and an additional paid day off for staff to observe a non-federally recognized holiday. We also welcome feedback from staff to recommend other holidays that should be celebrated and recognized and are committed to re-evaluating other holidays as our staff grows.
  • Providing meaningful unconscious bias and inclusive language training for leadership and staff
  • Integrating DE&I into the work we do for our clients

#2 Evaluating our Hiring and Pay Practices

As part of Avid Core’s DE&I plan, we are taking steps to fulfill our commitment to evaluating and improving our recruitment, hiring, and pay practices with the goal of building a diverse workforce across all levels of the company.

  • Working with a consultant to develop a recruitment and hiring strategy and plan with a focus on diversity and inclusion
  • Including a salary range for all new positions
  • Establishing a $15 per hour minimum wage for all employees, contractors, and interns

#3 Supporting our Team

We pledged to support each other and prioritize the wellbeing and mental health of our employees, and we’ve kept up by checking in on each other during our staff meetings—providing a safe place for our team to share their concerns.

#4 Supporting our Community

We promised to provide a charitable fund for employees to draw from to support the causes and organizations they care about deeply. Through the past year, we’ve kept up our giving to organizations advancing the cause of racial justice and other areas that we care about, including:

We’re also working to implement practices to ensure historically underrepresented communities have a voice in the projects we manage, and educating others on how they can build inclusive virtual public involvement programs.

More about ways we’ve contributed to our community—and information about future efforts—can be found on our blog At Our Core.

Offering a Fresh Perspective: An Intern’s Guide to Developing a Marketing Plan

To commemorate Hana’s internship with Avid Core, we have donated in her honor to the non-profit of her choice. Hana selected the Fair World Project, an organization that advocates for fair trade for small-scale producers and labor justice for workers around the world. We are proud to support this organization and the important work they do.

Spring intern, Hana Chabinsky, smiles for a selfie and shows the title page of her marketing plan.
Photo by Hana Chabinsky.

My first day as Avid Core’s Spring 2021 Communications Specialist Intern was not typical. I met the team virtually, all sitting down via Zoom with a smörgåsbord of Grubhub-ordered lunches. After the rounds of enthusiastic introductions, we naturally began talking about that morning’s event: Inauguration Day.

As we chatted about the powerful speeches and celebrity performances, I couldn’t help but get distracted by the commotion of the closed-off street right outside of my building— full of Secret Service agents and police patrolling Kamala Harris’s apartment (fun fact: I was neighbors with Kamala Harris before she became the Vice President!). The excitement of this day—marking the beginning of a new presidency, internship, and my last semester of college—carried through my entire time at Avid Core.

I’m no President of the United States, and my work as an intern may be slightly less stressful, but in hindsight, there was something symbolic about joining Avid Core on the same day a new presidency began. I felt inspired and eager to make my mark, offer a fresh perspective, and, most of all, absorb as much as possible and learn from my hardworking colleagues.

My capstone project seemed simple on the surface: create a marketing plan for Avid Core’s second year. From interviewing internal stakeholders (my lovely co-workers) to copywriting a value proposition, to developing a website assessment report with short and long-term recommendations, the learning never stopped.

The best part of creating the marketing plan was taking on the role of head chef. The ingredients were all there; I just had to find a way to weave them together to make a cohesive dish that told the story of Avid Core.

Screenshot of the Avid Core team smiling during a virtual meeting, all with different Billie Eilish photos as their backgrounds.
Photo by Hana Chabinsky.

For example, when I interviewed each team member, one of my questions was: What does Avid Core do better than anyone else? Avid Core does lots of things better than anyone else. But I took each answer—each ingredient—and found the underlying consistencies and themes, added a little spice, and told a succinct story in the form of a value proposition.

If you’re currently working on a marketing plan or just thinking about how to best position your company or product offering for the future, I have a few tips.

  1. Interview your key stakeholders. What does your company/product do better than anyone else and why does your company/product exist? These interviews will serve as an excellent baseline and guide the direction of the plan.
  2. Get a fresh perspective. As a new team member, I wasn’t overwhelmed with the things we didn’t have or hadn’t done yet. I focused on the present and the future, not the past, to offer new insight to the team.
  3. Create both short-term and long-term goals to set your team up for present and future success. Make sure these goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based (S.M.A.R.T). For example, a goal could be: Increase brand awareness and reach. A S.M.A.R.T goal would be taking it a step further: Increase brand reach by growing LinkedIn followers by 5 percent by the end of 2021.
  4. Develop a process for allocating your budget, even if it’s just posing a few questions before deciding whether to invest your resources into a marketing tactic. Ask yourself: How will this opportunity serve our goal(s)? How will we determine if this tactic was a success? What will be our return on investment? What is the next best alternative?
  5. Check-ins are your best friend. There were so many components of the marketing plan that it was easy to get overwhelmed by the big picture. Looking at it as smaller components and getting edits and feedback for each one along the way kept this project from veering away from its goals.

While I enjoyed and appreciated learning about and practicing the technical aspects of writing a marketing plan, my favorite part was the sense of comradery I developed with my team as I asked countless questions, bounced ideas off everyone, got constructive feedback, and brainstormed what Avid Core’s future would look like. The symbolism of my fateful first day turned into a palpable energy and passion that not only carried throughout the last five months, but that I will take with me in my next chapter.

Hana Chabinsky is a recent graduate of the George Washington University, where she concentrated in International Business and Marketing. She will be continuing her work in the communications field post-grad at ICF as an Energy and Sustainability Communications Coordinator. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Digital Inclusion on Global Accessibility Awareness Day

Hi there! My name is Kaylee and I’m a Design SHINE Specialist for Deloitte Services LP. While I spend most of my time creating layouts, concepting for visual identities, and making sure no one uses Comic Sans, I also am passionate about educating others and myself on accessibility. A big thanks to Avid Core’s Stephanie Mace for letting me share my experiences through a guest post!

A website popup window showing an icon of a person using a wheelchair. A mouse cursor is pointed at the popup window. The image has a light blue background.

Before we dive into the core of this, I want to make it apparent that I don’t speak for all disabled people. I have my own experiences with my disabilities and have been afforded privileges others may not have. I want to use that privilege to elevate voices in the community and continue to learn about new perspectives, because I don’t always have all the information. Disability is not just a person in a wheelchair—disability comes in all types, and each disabled person’s experience is equally as valid as another’s.

Did you know there are one billion disabled people in the world? Did you also know that according to a WebAIM Million Report, 98.1% of home pages have at least one WCAG 2.0 failure?

The purpose of those statistics and Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), is to show how important digital inclusion is. Everyone who has access to an internet browsing device should also have access to the content.

According to access-board.gov, Section 508 states that “Federal agencies must ensure that this technology is accessible to employees and members of the public with disabilities to the extent it does not pose an ‘undue burden.’” This keeps people accountable and ensures disabled people have equal access to information. So how can you help make technology accessible?

One of the most important parts about integrating accessibility in your work flow is to get the proper training related to the platform you’re working on. While it would be great if you or your company could source an outside vendor that was an expert on content accessibility, I know that’s not always available. Instead, you can look at resources online to integrate inclusivity in your work and not rely on automated accessibility companies. Each platform you work on is going to have a different accessibility measure to take on, so I’ve included a few tips to help you get started.

#1: Use Alt Text (or more technically, Alt Attributes), any time you have a visual in your document or on your website.

Alt Text is important for screen readers, which is an assistive technology device typically used by blind or low vision individuals. The screen reader will take the Alt Text, or text describing a visual it’s attached to, and read it aloud so blind or low vision viewers are able to better understand the visual content. You may have seen this feature on social media platforms like Instagram or on applications like Adobe Acrobat under Accessibility.

Here’s a link from Adobe on how you can make your PDFs accessible through Alt Text.

#2: Make sure that all of your videos have closed-captioning or open-captioning.

Closed-captioning, which can be turned on and off, and open-captioning, which stays on the screen, is text shown during a video or webcast. The text displays spoken dialogue and any audio cues of the surroundings. Because there are a variety of platforms you can post videos on, there are different ways to caption them for anyone who is deaf, hard of hearing, non-native speakers of the content’s original language, or someone in an environment where they need the sound off. It is detrimental to rely on automated captioning capabilities because these features are rarely ever accurate and are a disservice to the viewers who need those captions.

Here’s one link from Jessica Kellgren-Fozard, a deaf YouTuber, so you can learn how to caption your YouTube uploads.

#3: Pair all of your podcasts with transcripts.

Since podcasts typically do not have a video feature attached to them, you need to have a transcript, or a typed version of the audio, readily available for the same audience included in tip number two. There are pros and cons to providing a PDF versus plain text/HTML on the site, so it might be best to do both if possible.

This website provides examples, how to set up podcast transcripts, and more.

#4: Ensure that the website you’ve created is accessible.

There are a variety of points to keep in mind when it comes to website accessibility, including the tips I’ve already listed. It’s also important to use a color palette with enough contrast, which makes it easier for blind and low vision viewers to separate content. Any flashing or moving elements that last for three or more seconds should have the ability to be paused for epileptic viewers.

The WCAG is the industry standard for website accessibility. If you want to go through a checklist to ensure your site is accessible and learn about other related information, you can check out the W3 website.

Accessibility is integral to incorporate through a variety of digital mediums for equal access. These few tips and links I’ve listed are by no means an exhaustive list of everything that involves inclusive technology and the disabilities they assist. I implore you to do your own research, listen to a variety of disabled perspectives, and continue learning and adapting to the evolving accessibility standards. Don’t just do the bare minimum because Section 508 says you have to—go above and beyond to make equal access for all a possibility.

You can learn more about GAAD on the GAAD website.

Avid Fans of: National Preservation Month

Avid (adjective) – having or showing a keen interest in or enthusiasm for something. It’s more than just our company’s namesake. Passion for our work and for the things we love is part of our core values. Each month we’ll share some of the things we’re Avid Fans of with you. 

May is National Preservation Month! This month we celebrate the importance of preserving historic sites across the U.S., which provide a sense of pride both in our nation and within local communities. Avid Core’s work prioritizes effective community outreach that supports environmental and cultural planning, including the preservation of America’s historic and archaeological resources.

In celebration of the spirit of this month, we’re sharing a few sites on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) that hold special meaning for our team.

Dorthea Dix Park. Photo by u/zhrllover.

Hana – Dix Hill in Raleigh, NC

Founded in 1856, Dorthea Dix Hospital, located on Dix Hill, was the first facility caring for mentally ill patients in my home state of North Carolina. Today, the facility is no longer open, but you can still honor its history at Dorthea Dix Park, Raleigh’s largest city park. I spent many days after high school at the park— a wide open grassy field perfect for frisbee and picnics with friends. My first quarantine hangout was at this park, with plenty of space to socially distance. It is so easy to take for granted the dissipating stigma around mental health and the institutions we have in place today that care for those who need treatment. Visiting the origin of such an iconic care facility reminds me of the amazing progress we have made, as well as the work that still needs to be done.

Frying Pan Park. Photo by Amanda Roberts.

Amanda- Frying Pan Park

Frying Pan Park is a working farm park that preserves and interprets farming from the 1920s to 1950s. It includes historical buildings, farm animals, old farm equipment, a 1920s carousel, and a modern playground.  My children and I love coming here in the early mornings before the rush of visitors to see the farm animals as they are just waking up. As the area around this park becomes more developed, this park seems like a hidden country treasure and a reminder of what much of this area (now suburbia) used to look like. 

The Nauset lighthouse, notoriously pictured on Cape Cod potato chip bags. Photo by Stephanie Mace.

Steph – Beacons of Light

I’m that person who always buys the postcard with the local lighthouse on it. My fascination with watch towers started at an early age as I imagined myself as the keeper peacefully watching the sun dance across the water from 300 – 436 feet above the rest of the world. Before GPS and Siri existed, lighthouses spread across thousands of miles of shoreline proved to be vital beacons to captains anxiously navigating across the choppy seas. Each lighthouse is unique—the identification signal, the painted exterior, the curvature, and the design. That’s why I make sure to visit as many as possible during any road trip.  

Even though approximately 700 U.S. lighthouses have weathered the storm, they face many maintenance and funding challenges.  The National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000 allows the U.S. Coast Guard, National Park Service, and General Services Administration to sell the lighthouses to private owners and keep the beacons of lights around for many generations to come. I’m looking forward to crossing an item off my bucket list by staying at the Cove Point Keeper’s House in 2022. Be on the lookout for postcards!

Duquesne Incline. Photo by Ashley Dobson.

Ashley – Duquesne Incline, Pittsburgh, PA

My husband went to grad school in Pittsburgh and when he was in class, I spent my time exploring this rich historical city. One of my favorite views came from the top platform at the Duquesne Incline, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

At one point in time Pittsburgh was home to 17 active funiculars (aka inclines), using them to transport people and cargo up and down the many different hills located around the city. Now only two remain. The Duquesne is extra special because the community came together to save it, raising funds to make necessary repairs and working out a deal with the Port Authority of Allegheny County to keep it open and viable for the public.

Also, the Duquesne Incline features in Flashdance, a movie that stands as an absolute pop culture revelation. Its use in the movie makes no sense with the supposed geography in the film, but it’s just one more reason that this spot should be celebrated as a historical treasure!

Hubbell Trading Post. Photo by Tremayne Nez.

Tremayne – Hubbell, Lorenzo, Trading Post, and Warehouse

The Hubbell Trading Post in Winslow, Arizona, was built in 1917 and was initially used for storage and shipping for the railroad. In 1920, the warehouse was sold to Lorenzo Hubbell, who transformed it into the Hubbell Trading Post. The trading post became the central location for Native Americans to exchange goods and supplies. The trading post was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002 and holds many great memories for my family. I remember hearing stories from my mom about how, as a kid, she would sit in a wagon for a day’s ride into Winslow from our home on the reservation. My mom and her siblings would wait outside the city limit while my grandpa rode alone into the town on horseback. He would visit the trading post and other places to gather essentials like flour, salt, baking powder, sugar, and an occasional black licorice treat. Then, he would make the ride back and meet the wagon for another long trip home by nightfall.

Today, the trading post houses the Winslow Visitor Center, and the journey that once took a whole day can be made in 30 minutes by car. Whenever I drive through the area, I think about how fundamentally different and simple life was back then and appreciate the access to historical monuments and stories that hold value from the past.

Malcolm X Park. Photo by Washington Parks-People.

Virginia – Malcom X Park (Meridian Hill Park), Washington D.C.

It is hard to describe what Malcolm X Park meant to me when I lived in Washington D.C. It was my gym, my running route, my yoga studio, my concert venue or dance hall, my reading “nook”, my meeting place with friends, and the list goes on. It was a sanctuary for me during times of uncertainty, and it is where I would go to keep myself grounded, think, and reflect. The park has also served as a wedding venue for several friends! Twelve acres of beautiful landscape sit atop a hill in the middle of Washington D.C. with an incredible cascading fountain. It has also been the site of a weekly drummer’s circle for decades, among other long-standing gatherings. The park was listed in the National Register on October 25, 1994 and as a National Historic Landmark on April 19, 1994.

The history this park holds can be its own column! I’ll list a few facts below from Washington Parks & People, but there is so much more, and I encourage you to learn more about it.

  • The hilltop marks a defining feature of the federal city laid out by African American surveyor, writer, and naturalist Benjamin Banneker.  The hill would later be championed by Thomas Jefferson as the demarcation point for the Prime Meridian of the world.
  • The hill was the site of a camp for Colonel Robert Gould Shaw before he went to his death as the commander of the 54th Massachusetts Union Army Regiment, the northeast’s first all-black regiment whose courage led to the naming of the adjacent neighborhood of Shaw.
  • The hilltop was the home of a trail-blazing Black higher education institution called Wayland Seminary and College.
  • Many African American homes were displaced for the creation of the park, and many African Americans helped build it.
  • The park was America’s first national park built for the performing arts, with sunset performances ranging from Pearl Bailey to Bo Diddley Jr.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. frequented the park whenever in D.C., staying at the next-door Pitts Motor Hotel.
Houses on Benefit Street. Photo by Shinya Suzuki, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0.

Andrew – Benefit Street, Providence

On the East Side of Providence, RI near Brown University, Benefit Street is a one-mile stretch of historic and NRHP-listed buildings rich in colonial history and architectural tradition. If you catch it on a quiet night, it can be like traveling through time. Many of the historic houses (locals call them “plaque houses”) are still private homes, but others operate as museums during the day and offer tours. You can also find walking tours of the whole neighborhood—and at night, even ghost tours!

Here are some of the places you’ll discover in the area:

Around the Table with Nic Frederick

Welcome to Around the Table, a regular series where we talk to people in our network and share the incredible work they are doing in their industry. Pull up a chair and join us for conversation and connection.

Name: Nic Frederick

Company: DAWSON

Where to Find You: LinkedIn

What drew you to the field of environmental planning?

Desperation, really. I came out of grad school in 2009 with a Master’s in Biology and wanted to be a wildlife biologist, but with the recession in full swing, the only job I could find was in environmental planning. Turns out that I love it, so I’m happy to say everything worked out.

What is one environmental planning policy you would like to see changed in the future and why?

It’s funny to say that this is a wild time in environmental policy, but with the change in administration and the differences in administrative agendas, it’s reality. CEQ’s Final Rule for National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was issued in September 2020. While it did come with some truly novel ideas, such as a universal list of CATEXes, it stripped out a wide variety of progressive regulations, particularly in relation to climate change and cumulative impacts. The rule is going to change, likely this summer, and I would like to see those progressive ideals expanded. There’s also always been a discussion of streamlining NEPA. That can take many forms and there are lots of complicating factors that make it difficult. Still, I think most practitioners want to keep that as a priority.

You’ll be moderating a panel with Avid Core’s Amanda Roberts during the 2021 National Association of Environmental Professionals (NAEP) Conference & Training Symposium. What are you hoping people take away from the session?

NEPA is a complicated process that takes a wide range of professionals to complete. This is especially true when dealing with projects with significant tribal consultation. There has been a push in recent years to provide better support to Tribal Nations. We all work better when there is a clear, mutual respect between governments. I hope people will learn how best to engage with Tribes and how to develop truly meaningful long-term relationships with them. It’s going to be a great, engaging session and I can’t wait for people to hear it!

You host NAEP’s Environmental Professionals Radio. What has been your favorite part of putting on the show?

It’s been an absolute blast to pull together. I honestly couldn’t do it without the support of my co-host, Laura Thorne. Our chemistry is the reason the show works and I’m very thankful that we have it. I’ve always loved getting to know people and the show has provided a perfect excuse to do that. It’s so much fun to flick on my mic and dive right into an interview. Environmental professionals are such a diverse and interesting group of people and I’m glad the show gets to highlight that. We are always hoping to engage the environmental community through conversation. When we are laughing throughout, I know we’ve had a great show.

What’s the best advice you’ve received in your career?

There’s no such thing as “life or death” in NEPA. No decision that you make is going to cost you your life, so when you’re faced with difficult projects or challenging problems, don’t forget to breathe, and remind yourself to take things one step at a time.

What advice would you offer to someone starting their career in environmental planning?

Be flexible. When someone asks if you can support a project, say yes. The more you expose yourself to early in your career, the better. Pay attention to what you like and what you don’t, and it’ll serve you well throughout. Also, find an organization (like NAEP) that really speaks to your career path and become INVOLVED. I don’t mean become a member. Get on committees. Do some grunt work. Get to know the leadership. It’s a slow burn but that will pay dividends for your career.

If we were literally around the table right now, what food would you have brought to share and why?

HA! I love to cook, so I’d probably bring some chili.

Interested in building a relationship and joining us around the table? Let’s connect.

Around the Table with Desireé Reneé Martinez

Welcome to Around the Table, a regular series where we talk to people in our network and share the incredible work they are doing in their industry. Pull up a chair and join us for conversation and connection.

Purple circular infographic that reads: "Around the table with Desiree Renee Martinez" with Desiree's headshot in the bottom right; various cartoons with diverse representation surround the purple circle

Name: Desireé Reneé Martinez, MA, RPA

Company: Cogstone Resource Management

Where to Find You:

LinkedIn (personal),  LinkedIn (company), Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube

What drew you to the field of archaeology?

In fourth grade I visited the Southwest Museum for a class trip where we learned about California Indians. I am Gabrielino Tongva. During the tour, the docent stated that the Gabrielino were extinct, which I knew was not true because I was alive. In sixth grade, I learned about archaeology and found out that museum docents turn to archaeological and anthropological books for their information. I decided that I needed to become an archaeologist to correct the misinformation in those books about my community.

What sets Cogstone Resource Management’s approach to environmental services apart from other firms?

Our analysis and recommendations are based on good passionate science but also on practical solutions. We look at the bigger picture, as the work that we do affects other aspects of the project. We try to find solutions that are out of the box and help move the project forward.

What is one cultural resources policy you would like to see changed in the future and why?

Agencies and other government entities should create full-blown collaborative tribal programs that look at their managed lands as a whole, instead of waiting for a project to be undertaken to start communicating with tribes. A holistic approach would allow agencies to do better planning and not go down a rabbit hole on a project on land that is important to the tribes. They would then already know the importance of the land and thus avoid it, if possible.

You’ll be sitting on a panel with Avid Core’s Amanda Roberts during the 2021 National Association of Environmental Professionals Conference & Training Symposium. What are you hoping people take away from the session?

Communicating with Native American tribal leaders is different than talking to other stakeholders. You should approach it as you would a head of state. They are the leader of their nation and should be treated as such. Also, although a tribal leader may speak English, there are culturally based communication patterns that you need to be aware of because it will affect participation if not recognized.

What’s the best advice you’ve received in your career?

When discussing our careers in third grade, my teacher said that we should pick a career that we love. I love archaeology and here I am decades later.

What advice would you offer to someone starting their career in environmental planning?

You need to learn the laws in the state that you will be working in and talk with people who use them or get an internship so that you can actually see the laws in action on the ground. Know the difference between the federal and state lingo. You don’t want to look like a fool by using them interchangeably.

If we were literally around the table right now, what food would you have brought to share and why?

Tasty Tongva Treats – well, that is what I call them. These are our super food power bars created by Craig Torres, one of our Tongva cultural educators. It is chia seed with various nuts and berries, like elderberry, one of our traditional foods, combined with agave syrup and rolled into balls. Chia was a staple in the Tongva diet and we have been moving to try and eat more like our ancestors .The recipe can be found in Cooking the Native Way: Chia Café Collective.

Interested in building a relationship and joining us around the table? Let’s connect.

Around the Table with David Boyes

Welcome to Around the Table, a regular series where we talk to people in our network and share the incredible work they are doing in their industry. Pull up a chair and join us for conversation and connection.

Name: David Boyes

Company: DAWSON

Where to Find You: LinkedIn

What drew you to the field of environmental planning?

From the start of my career, I was constantly involved in determining impacts associated with various activities at the municipal level and how to best minimize impacts through careful planning. Much of my early work was under the oversight of the local Conservation Commission. Later as I became engaged in similar activities at the State and Federal level, it became a part of my daily work.

What sets DAWSON’s approach to environmental services apart from other firms?

Commitment to excellence in an atmosphere of family support. Kūpono Ka Hana (excellence in service) and Ohana (family) are mottos that our founder Chris Dawson is truly passionate about.

What is one environmental planning policy you would like to see changed in the future and why?

A more rigorous and expansive approach to Cumulative Effects, particularly on projects of significant size and scope. A separate study would perhaps provide for a more in-depth analysis than typically seen.

You’ll be sitting on a panel with Avid Core’s Amanda Roberts during the 2021 National Association of Environmental Professionals Conference & Training Symposium. What are you hoping people take away from the session?

I hope they see our true commitment to public outreach and stakeholder engagement.

What’s the best advice you’ve received in your career?

Keep it simple.

What advice would you offer to someone starting their career in environmental planning?

Listen.

If we were literally around the table right now, what food would you have brought to share and why?

Curry – I grew up loving Indian and Pakistani food!

Interested in building a relationship and joining us around the table? Let’s connect.

Ensuring Virtual Public Engagement Includes Environmental Justice Communities

Avid Core co-founder Amanda Roberts recently presented on this topic at the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) 2021 Annual Educational Conference (AEC) & Exhibition Three-Part Virtual Series. If you are interested in learning more, download our free resources or contact Amanda.

Amanda Roberts presents at NEHA AEC 2021

Virtual public engagement processes offer new opportunities for inclusion and accessibility. As planners, we must ensure our process allows for effective and meaningful participation of low-income, minority, and hard-to-reach communities.

Over the past year, three major events have modified the way we think of public engagement today.

  1. The COVID-19 pandemic forced organizations to cancel in-person engagements and accelerated the adoption of digital technologies. 
  2. The murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement amplified awareness of systemic racism and spotlighted how individuals and organizations contribute to unfair systems and practices.
  3. President Joe Biden was elected and his first day in office, he issued two executive orders—one on advancing racial equity and support for underserved communities and another reaffirming a commitment to Environmental Justice.  

Every community is unique so there is no magic formula to comprehensive public engagement, but there are steps we can take with every engagement to ensure we are reaching all audiences including those historically left out of the planning process.   

Assessment

Every project should start with an assessment to understand if current engagement efforts truly engage stakeholders that are representative of the demographics of the impacted community or region.  

You can start by looking at your existing stakeholder lists and examining:

  • If your list is only self-selected.
  • When the list was collected and the last time it was updated.
  • If the organizations are representative of area interests.
  • If tribes, especially those with ancestral lands in the area, are represented.
  • If there are gaps in geography.

Look at the media for key stakeholders and experts. You may be noticing a person who is repeatedly quoted on community issues. If your project has the potential to impact that community, it would be a good idea to engage that stakeholder early. Also look for news coverage in non-English publications to see if there are experts that serve those communities.  

You’ll want to do the same for social media. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn can help identify interested and active members of the public. Reddit can be useful for identifying public sentiment on particular topics.  

And, of course, ask your known stakeholders who else you should be engaging.  

Once you have a comprehensive list of stakeholders, you also need to understand how those stakeholders would like to be engaged through interviews and surveys. Understanding this information will help determine your key messages and tactics.  

Planning

After you have a good understanding of the populations and their interests, you develop a plan for engagement. I like to direct people to the International Association for Public Participation’s Spectrum of Public Participation when they are thinking about their goals for public engagement. On one end of the spectrum, you are pushing information out and on the other end of the spectrum, you are receiving information and giving the public all the decision-making power. Understanding how you want the public to shape your project is important to define at the beginning and help you decide where to invest resources.  

You need to evaluate and prepare for the monetary cost and time investment for engaging with Environmental Justice communities. You may need to only send an email to get the most active members of the community engaged whereas a community member from a traditionally underserved group may require an email, canvassing, information from respected community leaders, and language interpretation. You are investing more resources to get the same level of participation in the project, but comprehensive engagement is worth the effort.   

As you are building your plan, you also need to understand that many communities, especially tribal communities, need time to process the information and expect to engage in a formal consultation process. That additional time needs to be built into your plan. You also must add into your timeline the process of distributing information. Canvassing, mailing, and distributing materials through trusted community partners takes longer than having handouts at a single meeting.   

Your plan should also identify messaging for your project and make sure it’s accessible to those you are trying to reach. Use plain language, avoid jargon, and write to a fifth grade reading level. You should be able to describe this project to a friend or family member who has no technical knowledge, and they should understand what you’re working on.  

Execution

With all the changes over the past year, organizations can no longer fall back on the way it’s always been done. But consider how many people were excluded when you weren’t digital, such as younger populations, those with non-traditional working hours, and those with limited English proficiency. 

To ensure a robust public participation, you will likely need to take a hybrid approach to public engagement where you combine traditional outreach methods with new technology.

Example combinations include:

  • Multilingual Website + Mailer + Video
  • Livestreaming + Polling
  • Social Media + Partnerships + Conference
  • Email Campaign + Phone Call + Webinar
  • Digital Mapping Tool + Site Visits
  • Pop-up Events + Online Survey
  • Community Listservs + Newspaper Notice + Online Public Meetings

The right blend is dependent on your audience and their specific needs.

Evaluation

The last part of our process is evaluation. It’s important to understand if your public involvement process has achieved its goals of reaching underserved and marginalized communities.  

Digital tools have powerful analytics built into their system—you can understand a lot about participants without asking them a single question. How they accessed your site, what they spent the most time looking at, and where they are located are all available through built-in analytics. However, you will likely need to supplement this information with a survey to understand the demographics of everyone who participated in the process.  

Once you get this data, if you still see gaps in your outreach, you need to go back to the assessment and planning phase and look at what might need to change to get representative input.

Public involvement processes are constantly changing and the last year has spotlighted the public’s adaptability and willingness to embrace new technology. Now it’s up to organizations to build those accessible options into their plans from the start and keep the focus on representative participation from all community members throughout the process.

Avid Fans of: Earth Day

Avid (adjective) – having or showing a keen interest in or enthusiasm for something. It’s more than just our company’s namesake. Passion for our work and for the things we love is part of our core values. Each month we’ll share some of the things we’re Avid Fans of with you.  

To celebrate Earth Day this year, each of our team members took action in honor of the spinning rock we call home. From beach cleanups to farmers’ market adventures, we wanted to use this day to contribute to a more resilient and sustainable future. We encourage you to do something, big or small, to leave a positive impact on our Earth.

Isabelle & Sophie cleaning up the beach. Photo by Stephanie Mace

Cleaning Up Our Earth – Steph

“Leave this world a little better than you found it” is the motto our family lives by whenever we visit a park, beach, or a new place. Earlier in April we were fortunate to spend time at the beach and my daughters served as our trash detectives. It proved to be an educational scavenger hunt and we felt as if the beach wildlife would live longer without the pieces of plastic, bottles, and cardboard boxes we picked up. On Monday, my daughters kicked off Earth Week by taking shorter showers (which seems like a miracle), attending virtual school in their pajamas, watering plants, learning about endangered species, and pledging to volunteer with Rock Creek Conservancy to clean up our favorite local parks throughout the year.

Picking up trash at Rock Creek Park. Photos by C. Montgomery.

Tikkun Olam: Repairing the World – Hana

The Hebrew phrase and Jewish teaching, tikkun olam (תיקון עולם),translates to “repairing the world.” While I learned about this in religious school as a child, I love how this concept is a universally human one. We are all responsible for our planet’s future and we should all contribute to its resilience. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you get stuck in the blackhole of statistics about climate change, habitat destruction, and greenhouse gas emissions.  But looking through the lens of tikkun olam, I remember that I can’t be responsible for saving the planet; I can just do my part to help repair it.

My apartment is a block away from Rock Creek Park. I’ve found myself there nearly every day—whether I’m taking a walk through it to get away from my computer or sitting at the picnic tables reading my book. It is both peaceful and vibrant and is home to some of the best fetch D.C. has to offer its canine residents. However, it is also home to countless discarded water bottles, plastic wrappers, and forgotten mystery items. To celebrate Earth Day and practice tikkun olam, I spent an afternoon picking up trash near the creek. As someone who loves the Park, I try to practice Steph’s family motto and leave it better than I found it when I visit, even if that means just picking up one piece of trash. When you dedicate an hour to it, you’ll be amazed at how quickly that trash bag fills up!

Photo by Amanda Roberts.

Helping Our Pollinators- Amanda

Last year, I invested in landscaping with native Virginia plants and flowers. For Earth Day this year, my daughter and I wanted to expand on our garden to include more plants attractive to pollinating insects such as bees and butterflies. We went on an adventure to purchase seeds from our local garden store and planted them along our yard. Now, we’ll be waiting to see if any germinate. I’m hoping our garden will help keep the pollinator population thriving! 

Tremayne poses with his wife and one-year-old daughter after picking up trash in the neighborhood. Photo by Tremayne Nez.

Neighborhood Cleanup – Tremayne

Every neighborhood has some sort of municipal code on street litter and waste. However, despite our best efforts to reduce our neighborhood litter, there will be a piece that escapes us, especially with active construction going on. My neighborhood had many construction projects this past year, with new homes and townhomes being built. Unfortunately, with the few remaining projects left, my front patio is now a favorite spot for the blowing construction debris. I started to grow frustrated when I would open my front door to find another piece of trash waiting for me to pick it up.

This year, I decided to celebrate Earth Day by doing my part to clean up my neighborhood. I love to take walks around the area with my wife and one-year-old daughter. We usually take our time to enjoy the cool breeze and warm sun. I now take a small garbage bag for our walks, so whenever we stumble upon a piece of garbage blowing around the street, I run it down and place it in the bag.

Keeping our neighborhoods clean is not only visually pleasing it is also a great way to keep our community and local habitat safe.

Photo by Andrew Curtin.

Anacostia River Cleanup – Andrew

Every summer, I try to get in as much kayaking as I can. Near me in Washington, DC and further out into Maryland, Northern Virginia, and West Virginia there are some pretty spectacular places to launch. But one of my favorites – often overlooked – is along the Anacostia River. While the Potomac can get you some great views of the monuments, the Anacostia is by far the best way to find wildlife within the District – there are always plenty of turtles, herons and cormorants out and about, and I’ve even seen a couple of ospreys. This year, I’m supporting the Anacostia Watershed Society’s Earth Day cleanup efforts to help restore and protect this beautiful natural resource for future generations.

Photo by Virginia Quiambao Arroyo.

Farmers’ Market Fun – Virginia

I lived most of adult life in New York City or Washington D.C. and took full advantage of every farmers’ market I could find. Since moving to the suburbs of Virginia, I lost sight of frequenting farmers’ markets but recently rediscovered my love for them. I try my best to buy our produce and meat from farmers’ markets. It has also been a great opportunity to spend time outdoors with friends during COVID and has become a Sunday ritual for my daughter Selena and me. When the Dale City Farmer’s Market is in full swing, the produce options are endless!

Herbs growing in the AeroGarden. Photo by Ashley Dobson.

Reducing My Food Waste – Ashley

I read recently that if food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China and the U.S. I love to make new recipes or have themed food nights, but a lot of these one-offs meant I was not using the items I bought to their fullest potential. I’ve spent the past year putting more of a concerted effort toward reducing my food waste and for Earth Day this year, I want to make that commitment public.

I’ve been making it a personal challenge to plan my meals ahead of a grocery run to ensure I am only getting what I need and that I’ll be able to eat it while the food is at its freshest. I’ve also made the most of my refrigerator and freezer space to support this goal. I organize my fridge with the items to eat first in the front and often split items from the package to save half in the freezer. I love sandwiches, but as the only person eating gluten free in my household, I can’t eat a full loaf of bread before it spoils. Taking advantage of the freezer has extended the life of my loaves and meant that I don’t waste a single slice.

My husband bought me an AeroGarden for Christmas and I have loved growing my own basil, mint, thyme, dill, and parsley. The packaging that fresh herbs come in from the grocery store is often wasteful and it spoils quickly. Having easy access to it has kept me in a steady supply of pesto and offers me different ways to vary up the meals I plan for the week. I also repurpose food scraps, regrowing items like green onions and lettuce.

All of these strategies have had added benefits beyond conservation and reducing my food waste. I save money by only buying what I need, time because I’ve already made a meal plan, and I’ve also reduced my use of single-use plastic because of these efforts. My individual impact is small, but paying attention to my own food waste has been a wake-up call and brought my attention to advocating for more large-scale changes that can be done.