How I Celebrate Earth Month, Every Month

By Jennifer Long

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My Appreciation for the Earth is Constantly Growing

I grew up in Tokyo, Japan. The city had green spaces, but my existence there was mostly one surrounded by concrete. Luckily for me, our family trips were frequent, but they never included exploring nature or any outdoor adventures. And so I came to prefer urban environments.

It wasn’t until a two-week canoe trip near Quetico, Canada in 2009, where I portaged through lakes and over land, that I truly experienced wilderness (or at least, relatively untouched-by-humans land). The water in certain areas was so pure; you could fill up your water bottle in the lake and drink it safely without purifying it.

The trip left a huge impact on me. In addition to giving me a higher tolerance for mosquitos and leeches, and leaving me physically stronger from all the heavy lifting, it gave me a much deeper appreciation for our Earth. It got me thinking critically about how we treat our Earth.

Why is it that Quetico is one of the few places you can still drink water directly from the lake? I starting thinking about the language we use to connect with the Earth, and our detrimental practices against it.

Because of that trip, and for many other reasons, I try to celebrate the Earth all the time—with a special emphasis during Earth Month.

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Thoughtful Conservation and Sustainability

According to one source, if you imagine the earth’s 4.5 billion years in the timeline of one week, then modern human existence would only be the last six seconds of the Saturday evening, at 11:59:54.

In this scenario, “one-eightieth of a second ago, we discover[ed] oil, thus accelerating the carbon blowout started by the industrial revolution.’’ [Avlonas, Nassos, 4]

Humans have had such a direct, negative impact on carbon dioxide emissions and nonrenewable natural resources (and consequent global warming), that we are forced to be reactive to a problem we have caused.

To keep conservation and sustainability top of mind personally, I do whatever I can to find peaceful moments to enjoy the Earth: hikes, walks by the lakes—whatever nature I can access.

I strive to reduce my waste by recycling at home and at work.

I try reusing items by repurposing or donating, instead of just throwing things out and adding to the growing landfills.

Buying locally grown food can also help, as grocery stores’ food transportation adds to emissions. Being mindful of dietary and shopping choices can also make a difference. Food that we throw out ends up decaying in landfills and producing methane, which is more harmful than CO2 emissions.

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Composting with Worms

Most recently—I’ve begun composting with worms!

Red wigglers, shipped from Europe, and provided by the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago, are hard at work in a five-gallon plastic tub (with air holes) underneath my kitchen sink. They consume approximately half a pound of food every day.

The worms consume the food before it decays (so no smells other than that of dirt!) and turn it into soil through their digestive processes. I can then use the soil (which they migrate away from, making it easier to scoop up) to grow herbs from the porch attached to my walk-up apartment in Chicago.

If I had more space, I would be able to have a more sophisticated system and do outdoor composting (where you can throw all food scraps, no worms). I would probably grow my own plants and perhaps save money on vegetables.

Composting with worms is a skill I acquired and have taught in workshops as a Chicago Conservation Corps Leader, through a program run by the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. In this program, people can train on major issues affecting Chicago (water, food, transportation and more) and then create projects in communities where they are stakeholders to spread awareness of conservation and sustainability.

I’ve found this opportunity to be rewarding and have enjoyed finding a place to learn and practice new skills. It has also made me more aware of celebrating Earth Month—and conservation and sustainability—in the context of Chicago.

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Water Conservation Efforts

Water is a growing concern.

While the Earth’s surface is 71 percent water, only 3 percent of that water is without saline. Of that 3 percent, more than 99 percent is unavailable in the form of ice caps, glaciers or groundwater. This leaves us with only 0.10 percent of water (which happens to reside mostly in lakes, swamps and rivers) for industrial, agricultural and human use. [Avlonas, Nassos, 10].

For this reason, I began assisting with fundraising strategies for an organization called Surge for Water, which provides water sanitation and hygiene solutions to developing countries through community-based relationships around the world. Their mission is to ensure that everyone has access to water, as it is becoming more and more scarce!

Actively participating with your time, treasure or talent in an issue you feel strongly about is one way to make a positive impact on the Earth.

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What Earth Month Means to Me

Sustainability should be a mindset at all levels: at the individual level and at the systemic level with governments and corporations.

We have the opportunity to influence larger systems and institutions, such as the agricultural production industry, with the products that we purchase. We can also make a difference with our lifestyle choices and habits. We just need to keep conservation and sustainability in mind. I believe that all the small steps that we each take will have a large impact over time.

Earth Month reminds me of the powerful impact we can have, and do have, on the Earth. It reminds me to celebrate the Earth’s many wonders and to participate in its preservation.

By finding meaningful ways to celebrate the Earth on a daily basis, and especially during Earth Month, we can help combat climate change and be a part of the solution to protect our planet’s natural resources for generations to come.

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Jennifer Long is a DWN member at large and an assistant director of development for DePaul’s Richard H. Driehaus College of Business.

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Celebrating the Spirit of St. Louise at DWN’s 12th Annual High Tea

 By Nadia Alfadel Coloma

On March 28, DePaul women faculty and staff gathered for fellowship, networking and service at DWN’s 12th annual High Tea with St. Louise. This yearly celebration marks two occasions: Women’s History Month and St. Louise’s feast day, both of which occur in March.

So who was St. Louise anyway? Why does DWN hold this event each year to commemorate her?

One terrific metaphor I heard once from someone explaining the significance of St. Louise, in her relation to St. Vincent, is that if St. Vincent were the president of our university, then St. Louise would be the provost.

St Louise de MarillacFrom 17th century France, St. Louise was St. Vincent’s most trusted and key collaborator. She dedicated her life to the service of others, serving the poor alongside St. Vincent and educating women to help those most in need. St. Louise was also a wife (then widow), a mother (to a son with special needs), a nurse, social worker, teacher and community organizer. She founded the Daughter’s of Charity, a community of religious women that still exists today.

St. Louise’s spirit of service and action inspires us to take our beliefs,  ideas, passions, dreams, our vision for a better world—and put them into action. And it is because of her inspiring legacy that DWN honors her each year, not with one event, but with two: the other being our annual Women of Spirit and Action Awards.

17458234_10212052718136305_3478190085345872810_nBut this year’s High Tea with St. Louise was different. In addition to providing a space and opportunity to enjoy afternoon tea and treats with fellow DPU women, our 2017 High Tea included a service activity.

All this talk about St. Louise inspiring us to action, well, what better way to honor her than to put our inspiration to action and do service in her name?

The event kicked off with keynote speaker Barbara Sims, a DePaul SNL graduate student who talked about her experiences facing poverty, her struggles as a first-generation college student and single mother, and her climb to a six-figure corporate job that, while it filled her pockets, didn’t satisfy her soul.

“Knowledge is power,” she shared, reading a quote from Kofi Annan that inspired her. “Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress in every society and every family.”

Barbara ended up leaving her six-figure job to pursue her passion for singing. In fact, she sang a song just before beginning her address, mesmerizing everyone with the delightful surprise of her voice that echoed through the lofty ceilings of Cortelyou Commons. (Not every keynote speaker spontaneously breaks into song…) You can watch the 40-second clip of her singing here.

Barbara spent a few years traveling around the country singing, but she still felt a restlessness in her soul. She had a calling toward education, and so decided to go back to school, enrolling at DePaul to pursue a PhD that focuses on culturally relevant education in the neo liberal era.

“I wanted to be in some service,” she said. “Our African American students are either underemployed or unemployed. They’re not walking away from school prepared or inspired.”

sarahscircleAfter Barbara’s keynote, the local nonprofit that we would be serving that day was introduced. Sarah’s Circle, located in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, serves women who are homeless or in need of a safe space. Last year the organization served roughly 793 women in the community.

But there was one more special guest before the service portion of the event: the Depaul (yes, lowercase p) USA’s Dax Program, which helps our students facing homelessness by matching them with host families and giving them resources and support so they can complete their education at DePaul.

20170328_161128“There are at least 50 students at DePaul who are homeless, or housing insecure, as we prefer to say, during any given quarter,” shared Sister Judy Warmbold, the Dax program coordinator. “The problem is… we don’t know who these students are. The best thing you can do to help is know that this program exists, help spread the word and help identify students who you suspect might need this program.”

“There are at least 50 students at DePaul who are homeless during any given quarter. The problem is… we don’t know who they are.” – Sister Judy Warmbold, Dax program coordinator

I had heard about the Dax Program a couple of years ago, but admittedly, it had slipped from my mind since then—which made me feel awful, considering that one of the main points Sister Judy stressed to everyone was to simply be aware. Be aware of the program and be aware of the students you work with or teach on campus, as students facing homelessness are often too ashamed to come forward. You can read more about Dax in Newsline.

After a brief Q&A between the attendees and guest speakers, the energized frenzy of the service activity finally began.

At each round table, DPU women assembled sandwiches and packed them into bagged lunches for the women who benefit from Sarah’s Circle. Each table had loaves of bread, slices of deli meat and cheese, clementines and bags of chips. Also dispersed around the tables were index cards on which we could write a personal message to the woman who would receive the bagged lunch.

It was wonderful to be in the company of so many DePaul women who gave the gift of their presence that day to help women that they would never meet. Hands were reaching across tables, people were calling out “Is there more cheese?” and “Does anyone have an extra bag?” The connection and solidarity I felt with those around me was such a rejuvenating way to end my work day.

By the end, the 50 women who participated made 100 sandwiches for 100 bagged lunches. The representatives from Sarah’s Circle expressed their gratitude and amazement at how fast and efficiently we put the lunches together. Many looked up from the tables as if thinking, “Aren’t there anymore sandwiches to make?”

The spirit of St. Louise truly shone through the windows of Cortelyou Commons that afternoon.

I’m so glad that the DePaul Women’s Network offers these opportunities to come together, learn and give back to the larger community. It makes me proud to be a part of the Network. I hope we made St. Louise proud with this event that bears her name. I have a feeling we did.

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Visit our Facebook page to view more photos from the event!

Nadia Alfadel Coloma is the director of marketing and communications for the DePaul Women’s Network, and a communications and workforce specialist in Enrollment Management and Marketing at DePaul University.