Throwback Thursday: Emerson celebrates a year of successful composting!

This post by Apple Corps member Lisa Woo originally appeared on the Apple Corps blog.

As our AmeriCorps terms come to an end (July 15th is the last day for a handful of our team members), it is hard not to get sentimental about the past year of service. This end of term is especially nostalgic for me as I complete a two-year chapter with the Apple Corps program. So, in honor of the amazing community I have had the chance to work with and all that they have taught me, here’s a little Throwback Thursday!

All year long, students at Emerson Elementary, the site school where I have taught nutrition education, have been exploring their role as Earth Stewards through a school-wide lunchroom composting initiative co-led by myself and our fellow Apple Corps Member, Randa, who served as the Active Play Coordinator. Together, we developed a student-led “Compost Hero” lunchroom monitor program that was able to engage every student at each grade level. In addition, we held several health promotions throughout the year that allowed students to understand the close connection between environmental and personal health!

Students at Emerson embraced the title of "Compost Hero" with their fearless leader, Ms. Randa, a fellow Apple Corps Member (pictured top center)

Students at Emerson embraced the title of “Compost Hero” with their fearless leader, Ms. Randa, a fellow Apple Corps Member (pictured top center)

One such promotion was our Earth Day: Caught Green Handed Celebration, which challenged students to do good deeds for the earth and identify the ripple effects those acts have on their community. Students enjoyed posing in our “Caught” picture frame and having their photos displayed proudly throughout the school hallways.

gardening

Students turning compost into our school garden beds

The year ended strong with a final school-wide competition that pitted primary grade levels (Kindergarten, First and Second) against the intermediate grade levels (Third, Fourth and Fifth) in a Food Waste Challenge similar to the promotion held at Concord Elementary. The challenge was a great way to wrap up a year of compost education and stimulated great conversation among students about how important reducing food waste is for both our bodies and our earth, despite having a fantastic alternative waste deposit system. Paired with quality time in the garden and hands-on worm explorations, our final week of composting was nothing short of fantastic!

garden picture

A group of students deeply engrossed in their worm exploration!

Great job, Emerson Eagles!

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Solstice Parade founder on building community through art

2013 Fremont Solstice Parade biker (Flickr photo by Lambert Rellosa)

2013 Fremont Solstice Parade biker (Flickr photo by Lambert Rellosa)

Long before the Fremont Solstice Parade was world-renown for the phalanx of naked bicyclists that kick it off, the event was created as a way to build community through creative expression.

The parade was birthed by Barbara Luecke and Peter Toms, migrant arts-workers who brought the concept of a Solstice Parade with them when they came to Seattle from Santa Barbara in the late 1980s. Solid Ground and its forebear, the Fremont Public Association (FPA), helped birth the parade by providing institutional support to the Fremont Arts Council. The parade was more or less grafted onto the Fremont Fair, which was produced by Solid Ground from 1974-2009. The Fremont Chamber of Commerce assumed control of the Fair in 2010.

Barbara Luecke, co-founder, Fremont Solstice Parade

Barbara Luecke, co-founder, Fremont Solstice Parade

The Fremont Parade was conceived with two fairly conservative restrictions that seemingly paradoxically fostered its spirit of pure unabashed creation: There were to be no printed words (or logos) and no motor vehicles (except aid chairs). This limited commercialization and freed participants to come together in a celebration of life and art.

Fremont Solstice Parade (photo by Eric Frommer)

Fremont Solstice Parade (photo by Eric Frommer)

Annual public workshops are at the heart of the parade, bringing artists and other participants together to create and collaborate on costumes and ensembles in an art lab environment. The parade and workshops are managed by the Fremont Arts Council.

In this brief video, Barbara Luecke tells the story of the genesis of the Parade and role that Solid Ground/FPA played in building community through the arts.

 

Hamm Creek Restoration: Would you believe this is Seattle?

The rushing waters of Hamm Creek

The rushing waters of Hamm Creek

Harmony. Lots can come to mind when you really think about it. But I’m talking environmental harmony. I visited, photographed, chatted at and volunteered on the Marra Farm Giving Garden for the first time a couple weeks ago. It was one of those rare Seattle spring days where the sun lingers all day and the temperature is just right. While I poked around the farm (before getting down and dirty planting tomatoes), I kept the idea of Hamm Creek in the back of my mind.

About three days before my visit, I talked to Nate Moxley, Lettuce Link Program Manager at Solid Ground, about where I might find the creek once I arrived at the farm. He explained to me exactly where I could find it. I mean, the exact placement of the creek from any standing position, whether you’re facing north, south, east or west; are 300 feet from 4th Avenue South; next to the tallest scarecrow, etc. Let me tell you: I still missed it. After slowly exploring the farm, I finally circled back to where I’d started.

Kyong Soh, Lettuce Link’s Marra Farm Coordinator, was actively running around, filling new compost bins here and checking on tomato plants there. I asked her where I might find Hamm Creek.

“Oh, it’s right behind you!” she said. I did a mental face palm. How could I miss it? Was it that obvious? But when I turned around, I didn’t feel so dumb: No, in fact, it is not visible at all. Many people could be and are presently oblivious to this creek. Although it runs above ground (or has been “daylighted”) for about 200 feet right next to the popular neighborhood farm, it is shrouded by large bushes, smallish trees and tall grasses.

First, Kyong led me about 15 feet to the left of the main entrance, where we crouched down beneath shrubbery in order to avoid nettles in our faces and any exposed skin. This small clearing afforded us a view of darkened, lightly rushing water. The second entryway was a little more open, but still unassuming from the outside and didn’t provide much light for observing the critters and plant life contained within. The third entrance to the creek was by far my favorite: The short walk down requires little squatting or cautionary walking. A little sun peeked in through the overgrown greenery and a modest tree arched its thin branches over the stream, protecting it from daylight.

Best of all, we witnessed this tranquil setting at its finest, part of why the creek was daylighted in the first place: A man, no older than 25, sat by the creek with his bike perched next to him, relaxing and snacking in the shade, apparently taking a break from the day and choosing to do so in this serene environment – a sliver of green land in the otherwise largely industrial neighborhood of South Park, Seattle. A neighborhood with a rich history in activism and community gardening, but also known for continuously polluted air and topsoil from surrounding manufacturing facilities – and known for the contaminated Duwamish River, a superfund site which it is estimated will take 27 years to clean up.

The project to restore this creek has been a long one: What started as a trash and litter cleanup in the 1980s turned into a multi-objective restorative project spearheaded by the late environmental activist John Beal. The goals? To reestablish the Lost Fork of Hamm Creek at Marra Farm, part of the larger Hamm Creek watershed which encompasses at least an acre of land, as an ecosystem, complete with native plants, bugs, birds and even salmon rearing. Although a lot has been done over a span of over 30 years, Nate points out that after the energy put into the Lost Fork of Hamm Creek by John Beal and the daylighting process in 2000, “Over the last few years, there hasn’t been ongoing stewardship. Until now.”

Alas, after years of hard work from the community and beyond, salmon fry cannot survive in this ecosystem if people still litter or pollute the water. Alternatively, residents of the South Park community cannot enjoy the benefits of the creek if the water quality is unsafe. So now, Solid Ground has taken on the task of ongoing restorative efforts. Thanks to a generous grant from King Conservation District, as well as additional support from the Subaru of America Foundation and Russell Family Foundation, Lettuce Link staff are building ecosystems and community around the Lost Fork. By integrating our existing partnership with Concord International Elementary School, the creek is a learning tool for students. Last spring, Lettuce Link’s Education Coordinator Amelia Swinton used science-based curricula put together by Mountains to Sound Greenway with 5th graders during classes at Marra Farm, incorporating water quality safety testing including measuring the pH levels, temperature and turbidity.

There have also been ongoing discussions between Lettuce Link staff and community members about the design and content for new signage around the creek in order to enhance general knowledge about the safety and history of the creek. “We want to increase awareness about it. People have passively used the creek. You know, on a hot day they might stick their feet in it or kids might be playing in it. So we wanted to make sure that the water was safe,” Nate says.

Regarding the future, “We plan to take out invasive species like English ivy and Himalayan Blackberry and plant over 200 native plants in October,” Nate tells me.  And as for releasing fry into the streams, “The pipes downstream might be too clogged with sediment for the salmon to successfully pass through. Hatcheries may not give up their fry unless they’re sure the salmon can thrive.” But there’s still a possibility for another salmon run in Seattle’s backyard. “Right now, we’re doing more research on the conditions downstream,” he assures me.

I hope it is possible to have a living, breathing ecosystem, one where plants, animals and humans can live in harmony. If one can build community with the help of a 200-foot-long splinter of running water, then I’m a believer.

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Want to help with the Hamm Creek Restoration Project? Join us on South Park Saturdays, the 1st Saturday of every month, to get involved at Hamm Creek and the Marra Farm Giving Garden or contact lettucelink@solid-ground.org for more information.

40th Anniversary Timeline: 1975 recycling our roots

1975 Armen at Fremont Recycling Station

1975

If it’s difficult to define a career in a few paragraphs, it is impossible to capture the essence of Armen Napoleon Stepanian, a man who has always been larger than life, a myth in his own time, the 5th Honorary Mayor of Fremont, Christopher Columbus of Curb Collection, and one of the founders and early luminaries of the Fremont Public Association (FPA).

In 1975, Armen led the FPA in the creation of Fremont Recycling Station #1, the first source-separated, curb-collection recycling program in the nation. The Recycling Center showcased the political savvy that always informed the agency. While the FPA (renamed Solid Ground in 2007) primarily served the north end, recycling routes included the Mayor of Seattle and nine out of eleven Seattle City Council members, regardless of where they lived, to demonstrate the importance of the program and generate political support.

Of course, recycling is just one chapter of Armen’s amazing story.

A carpenter and display designer from Hells Kitchen, New York City, by way of San Francisco, Armen won the title Honorary Mayor of Fremont against 37 opponents (including a Black Labrador) in an election held on February 27, 1973 and began his reign as Seattle’s only unofficial public official.

While some took the mayoral race as a lark, Armen took the position seriously.

Armen plays a "pool duel" against then Woodland Park Zoo Director Jan van Oosten to benefit the Fremont Food Bank

Armen plays a “pool duel” against then Woodland Park Zoo Director Jan van Oosten to benefit the Fremont Food Bank

In the process of accepting the role of Mayor, he became a raucous force for positive change, a creative and tireless promoter, and one of the guiding lights that led downtown Fremont’s transition from a poverty- and drug-saturated neighborhood into the tie dye-tinged, environmentally-conscious “District that Recycles Itself” and, eventually, into the arty “Center of the Universe.”

He focused local media on Fremont by campaigning to keep the Fremont Bridge painted orange. At the first Fremont Fair (which he helped found), he started the Fremont Food Bank and engaged local leaders in public pool challenges to benefit the Food Bank. Through these and other efforts, Armen earned his national reputation for his role as an environmental evangelist preaching the benefits of source-separation, curb-collection recycling.

Fremont Recycling Station #1 ran for 14 years before leading to the development of the City of Seattle’s and many other municipal curb collection programs.

Armen views recycling as much more than a reduction in waste, or lessening of material extraction from the earth:

Recycling is … theology through technology,” he says. “People don’t understand the spiritual side of it … what people are putting in front of their homes is how they feel about themselves. It is how they feel about their neighbors … about the earth … about The Creator….

“Of the many benefits of recycling, energy is the most critical of all – the energy saved from producing virgin products, the foreign policy implications of consuming less energy, and our own personal relationship to the material – the positive energy we get from recycling.”

When the City of Seattle designed a citywide program, the Fremont Recycling Station #1 did not have the capacity to bid competitively for a collection contract. And the City imagined no role for Armen as an ambassador for curb collection. After signing a five-year agreement not to compete with the City, Armen left the area to continue his recycling career in Indianapolis, IN. Armen is a founding member of the Washington State Recycling Association and  an inaugural member of  its Hall of Fame. While retired and living in Ocean Shores, WA, Armen continues to advocate for a just and caring community.

In this age when Fremont has become one of the most upscale neighborhoods in Seattle – and Solid Ground one of the largest, most stable human service providers in King County – it is hard to imagine that one man, once called by a reporter “a combination of Archbishop Makarios and Phineas T. Barnum,” could do so much to change the face of our community and help set in motion the work that helps so many people today.

 

Learning to write with compassion & understanding

Solid Ground Communications Intern, Kahla Bell-Kato

Solid Ground Communications Intern, Kahla Bell-Kato

My internship with the Communications team at Solid Ground has come to an end, and I can’t help but be awed by my experiences – an education that extends far beyond mastering catchy titles or figuring out Photoshop.

While keeping the audience my focus, it was important to frame my work around the people I write about – our clients. This internship taught me to write with compassion and understanding about subjects I have never experienced. Throughout my time at Solid Ground, I have seen the face of poverty – not the numbers on a chart of statistics, or labels in a book, but glimpses into the lives of people fighting to survive – and it has changed me.

Interviewing employees and volunteers at Solid Ground stands out as my favorite task during my internship. It was incredibly reassuring to see the passion and intensity the people I interviewed expressed about their work. With eyes sparkling, they recounted all the support, aid and comfort their programs provide for their clients. They lamented the struggles their programs face, and begrudged the policies and red tape that perpetuate poverty and oppression. I am grateful I had the opportunity to work with these folks – many of whom have become my role models.

Through anti-racism work at Solid Ground, I have come face-to-face with my own white privilege and have learned that my silence maintains a system of oppression through which I benefit. However uncomfortable these meetings might have been, they gave me fundamental tools to work and interact with diverse groups of people.

From those working on the frontlines to those in the offices at headquarters, everyone is toiling to fashion this agency into a place that holds its responsibility to the community and the people they serve as their number one priority. Their drive and determination to make their community and the agency a better place, despite the struggles and setbacks, has had, perhaps, the biggest influence on me during my time here.

Before taking this internship, I lacked confidence in my skills and was unsure about what career path to take. However, my time at Solid Ground revealed that I have been fortunate – a reality I tend to forget in the day-to-day grind of things. My internship experience makes me grateful for my education and the opportunity I’ve had to fully dedicate myself to this position.

With a Solid Ground spirit, I intend to make the most of all the advantages and opportunities imparted to me. I will take with me far more than I anticipated, the most profound of which, unfortunately, won’t have a place on my resume.

March 2014 Groundviews: ‘We saw a need; we met it’

Groundviews is Solid Ground’s quarterly newsletter for our friends and supporters. Below is the March 2014 Groundviews lead story; please visit our website to read the entire issue online.

Frank Chopp – Washington State Speaker of the House, Solid Ground Senior Advisor and Fremont Public Association Executive Director from 1983 to 2000 – began his more than 40 years of success as a rabble-rouser, innovator, community builder and legislator around a Bremerton dinner table. 

Frank Chopp 2013: WA State Speaker of the House & Solid Ground Senior Advisor

Frank Chopp 2013: WA State Speaker of the House & Solid Ground Senior Advisor

He recounts, “Quite often when I was growing up, my dad and my mom would talk about politics, literally at the kitchen table. There was a lot of talk about how much my dad and mom believed in labor organizing, in public service. They grew up in Roslyn, WA, where there used to be a bunch of coal mines. The working conditions and wages there were so bad that they went on strike. My mom and dad would meet for dates on the picket lines outside the coal mines. Mom was tear-gassed by the state troopers during one of those strikes.”

Responding to community 

Frank graduated from the University of Washington and worked as a community organizer in the mid-70s in the Cascade neighborhood. In 1976, he was hired by the City of Seattle’s North Seattle Community Service Center, which supported the then fledgling Fremont Public Association (FPA). “It was very much an opinionated group, very activist oriented, as well as very creative. We were willing to push the envelope in terms of new things, really responding to community rather than sitting back,” he recalls.

The story of how FPA developed what became Solid Ground’s Transportation services is a great example. “There was a need to provide transportation to the elderly so they could get to doctors’ appointments. We started that with a Jesuit Volunteer, with a beat up old van, picking up people, taking them to their doctors, taking them back home. We saw a need; we met it.” FPA then brought together two smaller van programs to become more effective.

“We also wanted to make a political statement,” Frank says, “because this is about the time when Metro took over Seattle Transit. And transit service in Seattle got reduced for a while, because they were trying to spread it around the County. So as a political statement, we called it Seattle PERSONAL Transit. Then it became an ongoing program.

“So we organized many people with disabilities to go down to the Metro Council and say, ‘Look, you’ve got to provide this on a much more comprehensive basis, not just through a bunch of volunteers.’ We organized a couple hundred people to pack the hearing room.

“The initial reaction from Council staff was negative. But then the councilmembers looked out at the crowd and saw people who were very agitated and motivated, and they said, ‘Well, we should start doing something here.’ Eventually it became a much bigger program, serving all of King County with professional drivers and vans, and public funding. So it was a tremendous success.”

Frank adds, “FPA also aggressively pursued coalition building to get more done, organizing the Seattle Food Committee and then the Coalition for Survival Services, comprised of food, shelter and health care providers. The Coalition initially leveraged $500,000 from the City, which over time has grown to more than $40 million in health care and human services.”

Circa 1988: (r) FPA Executive Director Frank Chopp with (l) FPA Board President John Howell

Circa 1988: (r) FPA Executive Director Frank Chopp with (l) FPA Board President John Howell

On the cutting edge of new ideas

Frank describes how his experience with the FPA informed his role as Speaker of the House: “I’m doing the same job there that I was at the FPA; there is no difference. We are trying to figure out the best way to get as much done as possible. So we think carefully about what we see as a need in the community, or across the State, and then we figure out the best way to accomplish that.

“I think it is always important to be on the cutting edge, literally, of new ideas, and looking at new opportunities. You’ve got to constantly be pushing yourself and other people to do more, and also to be as creative as possible.

“As a community organizer, you want the community to be the face of what the need is, and they have to take group action together to get something done. You can actually achieve more if you put the real people who are directly involved front and center; the most effective spokespeople are directly involved.

“You see a need, you see an opportunity and you just go for it!” he says. “Then after you do things, you say, ‘Ok, how should this best be organized?’ The main thing is to start acting, doing things.”

Visit our Timeline of Accomplishments for more information about Solid Ground’s 40+ year history of innovation, partnership and action.

The One Night Count: a lesson in gratitude

SKCCH logoAs we gathered in the wee hours of Friday, January 24 at the Compass Housing Alliance for our initial One Night Count volunteer briefing, I thanked the twinkling stars above it wasn’t raining. Over 800 of us would spread out across King County to search for and count people sleeping outside without shelter. The One Night Count (organized by the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness) would be a snapshot of homelessness between the hours of 2 and 5am.

As the count began, my team and I quietly weaved our way around the streetlamp-lit areas first, peeking into parked cars and doorways. There was no one in sight. It seemed as if everyone else in the world had vanished. That feeling was probably what allowed me to peer into the dark gaps between dumpsters, or make my way into the spaces between buildings I would never, under normal circumstances, walk into at night. The mood was warm – light, like the glow from the lamps overhead. But that would change.

The cold reality
As the condensation slowly turned to frost, the warmth I had felt was replaced with a shiver. A large park was last on our map to check. We had been told before setting out that we would likely find people here; people really do come to this park to sleep. I was fearful; beyond the reach of the sentinel streetlights, the shadowed expanse behind the vine-choked fence was eerie and unnerving.

It’s one thing to think about the experience of homelessness while warm and safe in bed, but actually going to places where people without homes might sleep was entirely different. I couldn’t imagine having to decide where to sleep each night, let alone the circumstances that would lead me to believe that entering a dark park – without a flashlight – was the best option. What I felt was probably only a glimpse of the fear people experiencing homelessness deal with every day.

We found no one sleeping in the park, however – perhaps we just couldn’t see them. As we ended our search and began our walk back to our group’s meeting spot, we admitted how relieved we were to have a zero tally. That’s when we met John (name changed for privacy).

A face of homelessness
I knew immediately when I saw him that he was homeless. No one, if they could help it, would be out wearing only a thin hoodie and track pants. He threw a smile our way then politely asked us who we were with – noting the bright yellow “volunteer” stickers plastered all over our clothes. A member of our group explained what we were doing out so late at night. John paused and looked down, and then said that he, too, was without a home.

He told us his story and of the complications preventing him from getting the help he needed. All the problems he recounted wove perfectly into the pattern of homelessness – all the issues that agencies like ours are fighting to dismantle. As we talked, he shivered uncontrollably, so strongly at one point he almost lost his balance. And then, diplomatically, he asked us if there was anything we could do to help.

My coworker and I locked eyes; no words were needed to express how we felt. We had nothing to offer at that moment. If we felt helpless, John’s feelings of utter hopelessness must have been overwhelming. Indeed, he started to sob for a moment in the crook of his arm, hiding his face so we couldn’t see. With tears still caught in the lines under his eyes, he explained his medical condition and the barriers he’s faced seeking treatment.

Clearly suffering from the cold, he said he needed to go to the hospital and asked if we could call 9-1-1, so we did. Fearful of what might have happened to him if we hadn’t been there to call for help, I was suddenly grateful for the icy phone I squeezed in my pocket. He asked us to stay with him until the ambulance arrived. He was still shaking and having trouble standing, so we walked over to the stairs behind us so he could sit. We continued to talk – about his childhood and how he got his name – named after his father’s wartime buddy. He made jokes about what it was like fighting for bathroom time in a house with four sisters.

A human connection
When the fire truck pulled up, he held out his hand to me to shake as he thanked us. He did not let go, but held my hand as he continued to talk on, not wanting us to leave. I didn’t try to pull away. How long had it been since he was able to just talk to someone – for someone to listen? How long since he was comforted by another person’s touch? No, I wouldn’t let go until he did – or until the paramedics made me, which is what happened.

We didn’t wait to see if they would take John somewhere or leave him; after touching base with our whole group, we went our separate ways. And as I drove by on my way home, John was gone. I hoped he was on his way to a warm bed.

The impact of that night lasted far longer than the cold that soaked into my bones after only three hours outside. I shivered the rest of the morning thinking about John and my experience participating in the One Night Count – my electric blanket turned all the way up. Two pairs of socks, two sweaters, a hoodie, and two pairs of pants weren’t enough to warm me – inside or out. While the experience of homelessness is impossible to understand in just a few hours’ time, I came away with a very important lesson that I keep reminding myself of: Be grateful for all that I have – not just a warm bed or a cell phone, but a loved one’s open ears and caring embrace.

If you are interested in getting involved or would like more information on the One Night Count, please visit: www.homelessinfo.org.

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