Friday, February 24, 2012

Lean, Mean, and Green: Green Volunteering in NYC

Last year my head exploded.  It was Earth Day 2011, April 22.  I was walking in Central Park with a friend and it was a gorgeous April day.  I remember that I had alot swimming around in my brain: green house gases are causing world climate change to happen faster, the world population is reaching 7 billion, food and oil is becoming more expensive,  fossil fuels continue to pollute, and on and on.  So there I was, walking and talking, barking really, at my friend complaining, “What are we going to do? Who is going to save the planet?” After bloviating for a good 100 yards, my friend turned to me and asked, “Maybe its time you DO something about it rather than complain to me all the time!”  I stopped in my tracks.  Yes, what was I going to do? Keep complaining or do something about it?  Up until this point, I did recycle at home, I did reduce and reuse all that I could including electricity at home. I was not a vegetarian but I did shop at my local farmers market.  I attended local environmental talks.  I signed petitions.  I called myself an environmentalist.  But after considering all that I did, I realized that, for me, it was not enough. 

I suddenly became very excited.  My furrowed brow of worry and alarm smoothed out and my eyes brightened with new possibility.  I had been thinking about volunteering for a long time but just never got around to starting. I wanted to get more involved in my community and now was the time to get going!  So I set out on a journey to learn about how to participate in green initiatives near me and help make change happen right here.  I joined New York Cares (http://newyorkcares.org/), attended their orientation, and began doing volunteer projects in parks and gardens around the city.  If you are interested in volunteering but not sure how to start, then NY Cares is the place to begin.  It is incredibly easy and organized, and I feel like I am part of an army of doers.  It is the best way to explore the 1200+ local organizations that need volunteers on an ongoing basis.  The NY Cares website is fantastic for quickly finding projects that need people to volunteer any day of the week, by neighborhood, by type of project, and even by subway line.  I started doing projects that involved park and community garden clean ups and work.  I do love digging in the dirt.  I have also been having a fun time volunteering with GrowNYC (http://www.grownyc.org/) with their kitchen scrap composting program available at a few greenmarkets around the city.  It is a good program to promote diverting compostable material from the city garbage system and instead sending this rich resource to our local urban farms, gardens, and other places that can use it.

I decided to take my Saturday volunteering to the next level.  In my efforts to become more and more green in my everyday life, I had been thinking of going vegetarian and so started doing “Meatless Mondays” (http://www.meatlessmonday.com/) which is a movement that you are likely aware of.  Even Oprah had done a show about it during her final season.  The idea is to consciously not eat meat on Mondays, and in so doing eating more vegetables and soy to improve diet and health, while also buying and consuming less from the meat industry which is a huge polluter in this country.  Taking a cue from this concept I thought it would be fun and rewarding to do “Green Saturdays” during which I would not use any (or as little as possible) personal electricity each Saturday.  I really got excited.  I decided to start documenting my green Saturdays on twitter (http://twitter.com/#!/greensaturdays).  I like using twitter as an alternative for communication and networking and this form of “micro blogging” seemed right for the job. There are a million things that I can do in this city while not using my electricity and it has been a blast doing them. I look forward to my Saturdays now in a way that I never did before: just finding outdoor or indoor things to do is part of the fun. I also enjoy saving a little coin on my electric bill! The most fun part of my green Saturdays and volunteering is that I have met so many like-minded people here in New York and started some great friendships, an army of greenies and you’d never even know it!

During my nearly 10 months of doing Green Saturdays, I am proud to say that I have learned so much, I have met incredible people, and I have explored this city in new and exciting ways.  Ten months ago I was not sure how New York City was getting green or what organizations were available for people who want to get more involved.  Now, I do.  Green Saturdays brought me to Green New Yorkers and other environmentally friendly groups and people.  I do feel 100 times more conscious about our environmental situation in New York, in the US, and in the world as a whole.  I find myself paying so much more attention and being “plugged in” to our future.  Am I saving the world by not using my electricity once a week?  No. But going from being a complainer to a doer has meant everything this past year to me by getting involved and getting greener. 

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