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.  

What the 2021 Oscars Can Teach Us About Public Engagement

Photo by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

We’re less than a week away from the 93rd Academy Awards ceremony. At my house, that means we are catching up on all the nominated films.

As I’ve watched, I’ve been struck by how many lessons for improving public involvement processes can be found throughout this year’s slate of films.

Inclusive Engagement

Judas and the Black Messiah is based on the true story of FBI informant William O’Neal and his role in the 1969 killing of Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. This Best Picture nominee shows the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion and community-led outreach. And this message resonates just as powerfully today as it did while Hampton was alive.

A community-led approach to public involvement means actively listening to the community you are working in about their needs, planning collaboratively with community members, and modifying and reshaping activities based upon community input.  The community must be actively involved in defining and measuring outcomes.  

In the film, we see Hampton’s Black Panthers work to form the multiracial Rainbow Coalition, a powerful force for community-led action and change. If government officials had tapped into this network instead of opposing it as they did at the time, results could have been wildly different.

One Night in Miami, up for three Oscars including Best Supporting Actor, builds on this theme in a quieter way. The film fictionalizes a real-life meeting of Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke in February 1964. They are four men coming from different perspectives, but they have the same goals when it comes to combatting systemic racism.

Public involvement processes too often only do the bare minimum when it comes to diversity, asking one person to represent an entire population or group. Their conversations in the film remind us to celebrate the diversity in experience and approach, making sure to reach and include the most comprehensive audience possible.

Both films highlight the desire of and need for marginalized communities to have a seat at the table. In the public involvement process, it’s important for us to evaluate the processes we have in place and make sure they include all individuals—especially those who have historically been left out of the planning process.

Accessibility from All Angles

When we think about inclusion, we also need to consider accessibility in all facets of our public engagement process.

Crip Camp, my pick for Best Documentary, provides a very enlightening look into the development of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). To me, it was very eye opening to see what conditions people with physical disabilities were faced with prior to the passing of this act.

But it’s not enough to just be ADA-compliant. The process to get accommodations should be simple, clear, and prominently displayed.

The Sound of Metal, which is nominated for Best Picture, also stresses the importance of accessibility. The film follows drummer who loses his hearing and who must learn to adapt to his new reality.

The most striking piece of this film to me was how crucially it stressed that disabilities are not deficiencies. We should approach accessibility in public involvement with this same mindset. It should be built in from the very beginning, not be an afterthought.

A Safe Place for Free Speech

The public involvement process with environmental planning is often seen as the place to express opposition or support for a project. While we know that typically the process is not a vote, the general public can sometimes use it to rally opposition for a project and we can sometimes see meetings become contentious and attract protests.

The Trial of Chicago 7, a nominee for Best Picture, highlights our responsibility to provide a safe place for people to express their First Amendment rights. The film offers a dramatic retelling of the trial of the antiwar activists charged with inciting a riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, known as the Chicago Seven. The entire story provides a blueprint for what not to do.

If I expect protests for a project, I work with my clients to develop security plans in partnership with meeting venues to ensure there is a safe place for expression of first amendment rights and everyone knows what to do if things should escalate. I’ve also seen success working directly with protest organizers to understand their plans and to inform them of the meeting ground rules.

Ensure Transparency

When you know you might face pushback, it is tempting to want to limit the information flow. Over the years, I have had many conversations with clients that are afraid to share information because they are worried about the ramifications. Transparency not only contributes to equity, but it often leads to better results overall.

Collective, an Oscar nominee for Best Documentary, offers an extreme example of the power of the open sharing of information. The film is based on a 2015 fire in Romania that immediately killed 27 people and injured more than a hundred others. Four months after the fire, the death toll had risen to 64, partially due to the lack of proper healthcare and negligible medical care at the public hospitals. The documentary explores public healthcare fraud, corruption, and maladministration.

For me what stood out about this documentary, is not just the horrifying and haunting footage of the disaster itself, but the way the Minister of Health opened his doors to the documentary film crew. They are showing everything in the wake of this disaster, the corruption and cover ups. He even admits the country is not equipped to handle severe burn cases and, at one point, asks a member of the public for advice on how to solve this problem. His transparency empowers the general public and subject matter experts to weigh in on crucial decisions. This documentary is an extreme, but it shows how trust can be built by sharing information that would have otherwise perhaps been covered up.

Lessons for public engagement can be found all around us, even in pop culture. Did you have any takeaways from this year’s Oscars slate?

Water is the Essence of Life

April is Water Conservation Month, and the Avid Core team is committed to doing our part to secure safe, affordable, accessible drinking water for all communities and future generations. This month, we are donating to DIGDEEP, a non-profit organization working to provide rural communities in America with clean running water. We encourage you to join us to see where you can help—financially or otherwise—and to seek help when you need it.

Many of us take our access to potable water for granted. Take a minute to think about where your clean water comes from and how it gets to your faucet. It’s a hidden journey that only seems as easy as turning the tap on and off.

Experiencing life without the faucet changed my perspective on consumption and waste. I grew up on the Navajo reservation and my grandparents did not have running water. Clean water was hauled from a well several miles away and stored in barrels, eventually used to drink, clean, and cook. My grandparents survived on about eight gallons per day compared to the national home average of 350 gallons per day.

During the summer months, water was essential and not to be wasted. I remember spending time as a kid bringing in heavy five-gallon water jugs into their hogan (traditional Navajo home) to ensure that they had enough clean water to drink. Today, my Masaní (maternal grandmother) still does not have running water, and whenever I visit her, I bring in those same five-gallon jugs to make sure she has what she needs.

During the past year, my community suffered greatly from the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to other inequities, the virus has highlighted significant gaps in water resources among tribal communities and prompted the community to conserve our water to sustain health measures. Even beyond the pandemic, practicing water conservation is an effective method for us to maintain our water supply for future generations and for rural communities to access for future use.

Clean drinking water is an extremely sensitive resource and not an unlimited one. To help put it in perspective, only 2.5 percent of the earth’s water is freshwater, of which 1 percent is accessible for drinking, agriculture, irrigation, and power generation. With dwindling sources of fresh water and fast-growing populations, we must do our part now to conserve this sensitive resource.

Photo by Tremayne Nez

In my Navajo culture, water is a sacred resource. We have a phrase, “tó éí ííńá” (water is life) that you will likely find painted on windmills across the reservation. Water, to my people, is considered the very essence of life and existence. When we all take steps to conserve our water, we not only secure the long-term supply for future use, we sustain life for future generations.

What does it mean to conserve water?

Conserving water means to practice using water more efficiently to reduce waste. Practicing a low water use lifestyle helps to maintain our current water supply, helps the environment, saves on energy costs, and allows for future needs.   

So why conserve now?

According to a Government Accountability Report, 40 out of 50 state water managers expect water shortages by 2024, highlighting the need to conserve water usage. Bodies of freshwater across the United States have supplied Americans with freshwater for years but changes to the climate, such as more frequent longer-lasting droughts and less precipitation, have shifted the attention to a more conservative approach. Across the western U.S., aquifers are depleting quickly due to high demand.

What can you do to conserve?

This is a significant problem that will take cooperative and comprehensive solutions to solve. While we know individual actions will only play a minor role, we believe that taking small steps matters. When we all make small changes in our daily lives together, we can create lasting change in maintaining our water supply for all to enjoy.

Here are some practical strategies you can take today:

  • When washing your hands, turn the faucet a half turn instead of a full turn.
  • When brushing your teeth, turn off the tap between rinsing.
  • Install low-flow aerators designed to reduce the amount of flow and save on cost.
  • Check for toilet leaks by placing a few drops of food coloring in the back of the toilet; if a leak is present, you’ll see the color in the toilet and you’ll know to change the toilet flapper. Leaky toilets can waste 200 gallons per day.
  • Water your lawn only when necessary and avoid watering on windy days.
  • Collect rainwater to water indoor plants.
  • Only run full loads in your dishwasher and washing machine.
  • Consider replacing old home equipment (washers, dishwashers, water heaters, toilets) with newer, more efficient appliances. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), households can all reduce their water waste by 20 percent by installing water-efficient devices and fixtures to prevent dripping.

When practicing conservation in my own life, I feel inspired and empowered to start thinking of the more significant ideas and solutions.

Let’s take these steps together this Water Conservation Month and work toward securing safe, affordable, and accessible drinking water for all communities and future generations.

Around the Table with Berthine Crèvecoeur West

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: Berthine Crèvecoeur West

Company: Westbridge Solutions

Where to Find You:

LinkedIn,  Facebook, Instagram, The Global Fluency Podcast, and in Global Fluency Magazine!

How did you get started in diversity, equity, and inclusion work?

My story began with what could have been considered a failure. I got laid off from my first and only job here in Atlanta, Georgia, just when I learned that my husband and I were expecting our baby. Needless to say, I was at a loss as to what I was going to do next. After one day of mourning a job I, admittedly, never enjoyed, I decided the next day to create what would become the foundation of my company and our signature training platforms. I performed a SWOT analysis on myself, not only to discover my strengths and weaknesses, but to also create a rubric that would empower me to do not only what I was great at, but what I also enjoyed doing! Oftentimes, in life, the two are not aligned and it requires a degree of intentionality and clarity on our parts to make them so.

After this analysis, I realized that I could use my multilingual skills (I am a speaker of four languages), as well as the knowledge that I had amassed while working in the corporate, legal, and financial sectors. I knew that entrepreneurship was the right and only path for me to achieve my goals and empower others to achieve theirs, as well.

So, I sought training to become a professional Interpreter. After I received my certificate, I then completed my National Certification and became the first Nationally Certified Healthcare Interpreter for Haitian Creole in the state of Georgia. My work as an Interpreter took me to various parts of the state and country. I saw the need for culturally competent and inclusive professional development within the many sectors I was fortunate enough to serve. It was then that I decided to educate myself and prepare myself to pivot toward diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work. The rest, as they say, is HER-story.

As a professional trainer, what do you see as the biggest challenge facing companies today?

As a professional trainer, the biggest problem I have encountered is two-fold. The first is performative allyship. Too often organizations seek to have DEI trainer speak to a group and think that is all that is required. The diversity box can be checked off and then the work is done. That is actually not training. While there is a place and a space for seminars about diversity, it should not be confused with actual training. Training requires assessments, theoretical methodologies, processes, and practical applications.

The next challenge is employee engagement and executive commitment. While organizations are well-intended with respect to wanting to create inclusive and equitable workplaces, effective and successful training programs require commitment at the executive level. As a professional trainer, when speaking to the C-suite, it is imperative for me to impart upon them that DEI training is good for business and show them the potential return on investment this presents for their organization. Even a highly effective DEI program will face challenges when employees are made to attend. With committed executives spearheading this training, engagement can be fostered prior to launching the program. When programs are customized to suit an organization’s needs, as well as to energize and empower employees, employees naturally feel engaged and valued by their organizations. This will not only align them with the vision and mission of their organizations, but they will feel empowered to show up as their authentic selves.

You recently launched Global Fluency Magazine. What made you decide to branch out to this new medium?

I decided to launch Global Fluency Magazine because I wanted to create a space that allowed me to amplify other voices apart from my own. I wanted to invite different individuals from all over the world to come join the conversation, to share differing perspectives, and to explore current events with a DEI lens. There is an African proverb that states, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Global Fluency Magazine was built upon us all traveling on the road of our shared human experience… together.

In addition to your new magazine, you’re also an author and podcast host on top of your day-to-day work. How do you make mental health and self-care a priority?

It is a lot to do, but I make certain to use time-blocking strategies. For instance, I reserve Mondays as my administrative days and Thursdays as my podcasting days. Evenings and Sundays are reserved for my family. I have also adopted Warren Buffet’s strategy of using the power of saying “No.” I preserve and maintain my mental health by choosing clients to whom I know I can bring value, but who will also not undervalue me. I have also set boundaries with regard to the amount of time I invest in meetings and respect others’ time, as well. Time is a rare and valuable commodity.

Lastly, I take days off from work and when I do, I make sure that I have fun! I believe in “working smart” and being agile. As the comedian Ricky Gervais says, “The Reward is the hard work!” Because I so love what I do, it’s important that I am at my best, so I’m around to do it. That is also why I believe in going to the beach, laughing out loud, giving hugs to my loved ones, and enjoying life.

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

The best career advice that I have received was from a colleague and sales consultant, who was providing some constructive criticism about my company’s website. When she saw the “Meet Our CEO” page, she said to me “That’s a nice picture. But it doesn’t look like you and how I know you at all.” She was absolutely right!

The image was your typical conservative image of me in a suit. It was fine, but there was nothing about my personality in that picture. I could not empower others if I did not empower myself and give myself permission to show up as my authentic self. So now, not only does my online presence reflect my personality, but it allows both clients and potential clients to feel empowered by the Westbridge Solutions brand and all that it represents. Show up boldly and authentically in your business, in your role, in your life and be intentional about it. Best advice ever!

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

If we were around the table right now, I’d bring a charcuterie plate. I can literally live off meats, cheeses, fruit, and nuts for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There’s literally something on those platters for everyone! The perfect, inclusive dish!

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

Avid Fans of: Logging Off

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.

Spending an increased amount of time at home and online since the pandemic started has motivated us to explore new outlets, hobbies, and activities that don’t involve screen time. Check out some of the ways we’ve been using our time that doesn’t include work or binge-watching The Crown! Sometimes logging off is just what you need to recharge and reconnect with yourself and loved ones.

Ashley — Books, books, and more books!

In effort to stop doomscrolling on Twitter right before bed, I started making it a practice to read a physical book for at least 30 minutes every night before going to sleep.

I’ve since expanded way beyond those 30 minutes. I think I’ve left a permanent dent in my couch that resembles my favorite reading position. If you need to find me on any given weekend morning, I’m likely sipping coffee and reading the book of the day in that spot. And if you need me on any afternoon, I’m likely sipping wine (or an Aperol spritz) and reading on the couch or outside on the porch.

I’ve always been a voracious reader but during this pandemic, it has provided me with a much-needed escape. Through books I have been able to travel to far off lands, fictional and real, explore different perspectives and lived experiences, and make friends between the pages. I have read from practically every genre and have laughed, cried, and fallen in love many times over. I’m always down to talk about books you’re reading, to offer and receive book recommendations, and to obsess over my favorite characters.

I’ve read 145 books since March 2020 and have no plans to slow down this year. It’s a habit I hope sticks around even after I can have an in-person social life again.

A few of my favorite books I’ve read over the past year
Photo: Ashley Dobson

Amanda — Running!

In middle school, we would have to run a mile every week. I hated it. Even though I consistently finished toward the top of the recorded times for the girls, I thought running was boring and hard work. Then, about 10 years ago, I discovered fun runs—5k courses that involve obstacles, costumes, mud, and other fun challenges. Now that I wasn’t so concerned about getting a top time, I found running to be a nice break away from the gym and a way to explore the outdoors. While this post is about no screens, new running apps do keep me motivated by my friends who post their own runs and give me kudos for mine. And my children are taking after me — every night after dinner, they run around the house in a short race to get their energy out before bed.   

Photo: Amanda Roberts

Virginia — Cooking….kinda!

I have never been a fan of cooking and am not sure I will ever “love it.” But I have found much joy in spending time with our nieces and nephews. We’ve created our own little “quarantine pod” and I have really enjoyed making traditional Mexican food like “lengua” (cow tongue) tacos and have even made beans from scratch. Most recently, we started dying empty egg shells to make cascarones for Easter. We had breakfast for dinner and it was a hit. I’m looking forward to trying traditional Filipino dishes such as lumpia and pancit. I’m discovering a love of recreating the joy my late aunts brought my cousins and me through their cooking. I loved big family gatherings growing up and I hope to create similar good memories for my kids and their cousins.

Photo: Virginia Quiambao Arroyo

Steph – Parks, trails and unique gardens

Living in a house full of high energy and curious adventurers has motivated us to venture out to new outdoor spaces on a weekly basis. We’ve learned that it is essential to pack a bag full of snacks, masks, hand sanitizer, sunscreen, drinks, bubbles, and a picnic blanket if we want to make the trip a success. Our recent adventures included Hillwood Estate’s gardens, Nanjemoy WMA to find shark teeth, Brookside Gardens to learn about the plant species, and visiting the Tidal Basin.  When we don’t want to hop in the car, we’re fortunate enough to ride our bikes to new stretches of Rock Creek Park. The fresh air combined with the ability to explore has been a great way for us to learn about the incredible history and culture in the DC area.

Hillwood Gardens in Washington, DC
Photo: Stephanie Mace
Nanjemoy WMA in Charles County, MD
Photo: Stephanie Mace

Tremayne — Wallyball!

Over the past few years, I’ve developed an interest in the sport of volleyball. I’m not very good, but thanks to some friends, I can participate and compete in the local city league. Since the COVID-19 outbreak last year, there have been no league games, and local gyms are closed to all team sports. I really missed the competition, the fast-paced action, and enjoying times with friends while getting a good workout.

Recently, my brother invited me to play wallyball. Wallyball is like volleyball but played on a racquetball court with the net at a similar height and a rubber ball similar in size to a volleyball. It follows the same rules, but instead of a line-boundary on the court, the wall is the boundary. The wall adds another dimension to the already fast-paced sport and can get intense quickly.

It took a little while for me to get the hang of it. After embarrassing myself by running into the wall a couple of times and getting hit in the head with the ball, I started to understand the gameplay and enjoy it. The sport is a strategic game as much as it is active and tests your hand-eye coordination, agility, balance, strength, and timing. It is an exciting game, small enough to be played with two to six players.  If you enjoy recreational sports, consider taking up wallyball. It’s a great way of getting in exercise while maintaining social-distancing and playing with others.

Photo: Tremayne Nez

Hana — Furniture upcycling

Since quarantine began a year ago, I have become a dedicated watcher of DIY YouTube home renovation and design videos. What started as one random recommended video turned into a slight obsession. I was living at home after coming back early from studying abroad and working from my childhood bedroom and I decided it was time for a room refresh. After doing some research, I marched to Lowe’s, picked up some paint, borrowed a sander from a neighbor, and got to work! I upcycled an old, unused desk in our house so I could have it for my remote summer internship, redid a dresser that was in my room since I was a baby, and helped my brother redo his kitchen cabinets in his new house. Although I ran into plenty of challenges along the way, it was so rewarding to learn new techniques, try out new tools, and see each piece come together. These projects made me more passionate about extending the lifecycle of furniture, clothes, and appliances to minimize trash and waste. I can’t wait to tackle more in the future!

Photo: Hana Chabinsky
Photo: Hana Chabinsky

Andrew — Homebrewing

This past year I’ve been getting more and more into making my own beer. I like experimenting with weird flavor combinations and being able to brew my own means I can get way, way more creative than anything you can find in a store. Of course, this freedom has resulted in some great and some not-so-great beers, but I like to think I’m learning what works. For their part, my friends and family have been excellent—and patient—taste testers.

Right now, I have a Jalapeño-Harissa Saison in the fermenter – don’t worry, I didn’t use the whole jar of spice!

Photo: Andrew Curtin