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“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

Below is a guest post from NWEI Board Member Eric Park – in honor of NWEI’s forthcoming 20th Anniversary and the launch of our new website and online platform next week. Enjoy!

This quote is often a source of inspiration for organizations like NWEI, committed to working towards creating positive change in the world. However, while this quote is inspiring, it doesn’t offer any insight into how to “spark” this change.

NWEI has spent the last twenty years, working to spark change. As we move forward into our twenty-first year, we will be launching a new online platform to extend the reach of the organization. But more importantly, we will move forward with a deeper understanding of the importance of mastering the art of the “aha” moment in order to accelerate the pace of change towards a more sustainable future.

We believe the key spark for behavior change is the “aha!” moment. We’ve all experienced “aha!” moments, from eyebrow raising to life-changing; moments when we discover something new about the world or ourselves that inspire us to make a change. NWEI has worked to understand the conditions necessary for individuals and small groups to have “aha!” moments, knowing that this is the spark for individual and collective change.

But sparking these “Aha” moments isn’t easy. When is the last time you actually changed your mind about something, or resolved yourself to make a small or significant change in the way you were doing things? Turns out for many, this doesn’t happen very often.

What we do know, is that most people who participate in an NWEI discussion courses or our annual Ecochallenge event do make a change. And we believe it’s because these activities engage people in a social process of learning, action, or story-telling that creates the conditions for them to have “Aha” moments.

As we launch our new on-line platform, we hope to encourage more people to participate in activities that trigger more personal “Aha” moments, because while we know change is hard, we also know that change is inevitable. And we’re committed to accelerating this change by becoming masters of art the “Aha” moment.

With our on-line platform, we hope it will be easier for you to share your “aha” moments and make it easier for you and others to create the conditions for your circle of family, friend, or co-workers to have theirs.

In honor of Northwest Earth Institute’s 20th Anniversary, NWEI is awarding an outstanding individual in our network who exemplifies creating change for good and inspiring responsibility for Earth. Below are the nominees for the Founders Earth Leadership Award, an award created to recognize just a few of the amazing individuals who are part of the Northwest Earth Institute community. The recipient will be announced at NWEI’s 20th Anniversary Party on May 16th. Please join us in celebrating these individuals and their work to create a more sustainable future!

Judy wearing whiteJudy Alexander is one of the founders of Jefferson County Earth Institute, a new partner organization to NWEI. She has been involved with NWEI since 2000 as an active steering committee member and course organizer in Port Townsend, Washington, where she has helped to organize over 150 NWEI discussion groups, with over 800 participants! Judy has offered every NWEI course in her community. She was a key inspiration behind NWEI’s 2011 conference, held in Port Townsend, WA. She worked tirelessly in the planning and implementation of the event which focused on leadership, sustainability and sustainable food. She was also instrumental in getting farmers, restaurant owners, farmers markets, consumers and citizens together to talk about and take action around creating more local, sustainable food options in Jefferson County during a Menu for the Future community organizing push a few years ago, which served as an example for other groups in the US, with Cleveland, Ohio and Vermont replicating her efforts.

mail.google.comTami Boardman has been an active and very committed NWEI volunteer since 2008, and has participated in many NWEI courses. She has provided the leadership and inspiration in starting discussion courses at her workplace, spawning organizational sustainability action. Tami has also been an active EcoChallenge participant in past years, and has also chosen to be an EcoChallenge fundraiser for NWEI.  Tami plays a leadership role on the EarthShare Board of Directors, serving as NWEI’s representative and developing communications materials. Tami is currently participating on the NWEI Curriculum Committee, her efforts supporting a forthcoming revision of NWEI’s most popular course, Menu for the Future.

BD at Flower HillBarbara Duncan has been working with the Northwest Earth Institute community since the late 1990s. She has tirelessly worked to begin courses via two non-profit organizations she helped to create: Vermont Earth Institute and Catamount Earth Institute (partner organizations to NWEI). Through the NWEI discussion courses, she helped create a network of sustainability groups throughout the state of Vermont (the Sustainability Network is still connected and takes on a variety of sustainability projects). By 2012 she had led efforts in starting at least 600 NWEI courses and engaging some 6000 people in Vermont and New Hampshire! In 2011 she did a large Menu for the Future push similar to Port Townsend’s efforts (with 25 discussion groups starting). Of this effort Barbara notes, “Menu for the Future has been phenomenal. Vermont has been strong in the localvore movement and I had been doing localvore activities since 2000. However, having Menu for the Future made it so that people who had been paying attention to the movement could take this course and say YES we can do more. More community gardens started because of the course and support for farm to school programs grew.” Barbara has personally started 50 Menu for the Future groups!

Image by Dero Sanford

Image by Dero Sanford

Shelley Green has been involved with NWEI since 2006 when she began organizing discussion courses. She founded the Arkansas Earth Institute, a partner of NWEI, shortly thereafter and has been actively community organizing and networking on behalf of sustainability and social change throughout Arkansas. She has worked to form discussion groups on college campuses, via Heifer International, the Clinton Foundation, Wild Oats, the Architecture Institute of America, and has collaborated with Arkansas Interfaith Alliance and the Climate Justice Campaign, amongst many others. Shelley is also co-founder of the Sustainable Business Network of Central Arkansas and helped to form the Little Rock Sustainability Commission. She has also founded The Green Corner Store, which she owns and operates, offering a hub of sustainability for the community in Little Rock, Arkansas, where she was recently hailed as being an Eco-Hero.

mail.google.comEric Park has served on NWEI’s board for the past three years, currently serving as Board Vice Chair. He is an active participant in each meeting in helping fellow board members stay in tune with the essence of NWEI and how to best articulate the impact of our work. He was instrumental in contributing to NWEI’s current Strategic Plan, joining the NWEI staff retreat in 2011, where he presented a systems perspective model for NWEI’s work. Eric has also helped the NWEI team extend the new Change for Good online platform far beyond what was initially envisioned. As a result, the forthcoming new online platform will guide new and experienced users through a process that will allow them to achieve their dreams as a leader in the sustainability movement. Beyond his work with NWEI, Eric is a sustainability leader at Ziba Design, a consumer design group, where he is able to address consumer values around sustainability.

mail.google.comRick Reber lives out his environmental convictions every day in his job at The Standard and in his volunteerism in Portland. Rick is a founding member of the Green Team at The Standard, and is a member of the GreenTeam Employee Education committee. Rick demonstrated the power of NWEI’s Choices for Sustainable Living discussion course when he organized this course at The Standard more than 10 years ago, planting the seeds for the creation of The Standard’s first Green Team. Rick has been a member and volunteer at NWEI since at least 1994 (if not before). He has also been one of our primary Mentor and Presenter Trainers over the past seven plus years. His encouraging presence helps new volunteers to feel comfortable. He has filled virtually every volunteer role NWEI offers:  mentoring new discussion groups, presenting on NWEI’s work, training new mentors and trainers, representing NWEI at The Standard volunteer fair and other events, actively organizing discussion courses, helping to develop past discussion courses and even hosting out of town NWEI community members during NWEI events!

douglas-richDoug Rich has been involved with NWEI for at least 12 of NWEI’s 20 years, serving as an NWEI board member for seven years, actively organizing and mentoring discussion courses and well as participating in NWEI’s EcoChallenge. He was instrumental in catalyzing sustainability community organizing in Lake Oswego, Oregon, where nearly 40 NWEI discussion groups have started over the years due to his efforts! Through this network of sustainability advocates, he has worked with fellow citizens as a leader in stewarding natural resources in and near Lake Oswego and has served as a member of the Natural Resources Advisory Board.

mail.google.comLena Rotenberg was integral to the formation of Simplicity Matters Earth Institute, one of NWEI’s partner organizations in the Washington DC metro area, and served as a steering committee member for many years. Over the years they have been one of NWEI’s most active partners, with Lena organizing and promoting ‘simplicity circles’ in the DC area, using NWEI’s Voluntary Simplicity course book amongst others. Lena has also been instrumental in the development of many of NWEI’s discussion course books, serving as an active volunteer curriculum committee member for several revision and new course creation processes.  In 2011, Lena started a local foods co-op, Valley Co-op, in conjunction with several others in her community, citing NWEI as the inspiration to do so. In her words, “95 percent of my sustainable actions are a product of NWEI influences. The other 5 percent come from friends. Once the activist lens comes down, you can’t go back.”

mail.google.comBetty Shelley, a recycling expert for Portland’s Metro, has been actively volunteering for NWEI during the span of NWEI’s 20 years. As a community volunteer, she teaches waste reduction courses for citizens in the Portland area, and has been highlighted for her and her husband’s efforts to generate only one can of trash per year. Betty has volunteered on nearly every NWEI discussion course development team and several major revisions, as well as has volunteered to support nearly every NWEI North American Gathering and Volunteers Retreat – both locally and around the country. She also served on NWEI’s Community Building Committee for many years. NWEI Executive Director Mike Mercer notes, “Some people do a great job of creating an example in their personal choices for others to emulate. Others set a very high standard in their public contributions to the sustainability movement. Those that are in the top 1 percent in both realms are leaders who deserve to be recognized for contributions that truly move the dial…Betty Shelly is such a person.”

Congrats to our nominees for the Founders Earth Leadership Award! If you are able, please join us on May 16th in Portland to celebrate 20 years of Northwest Earth Institute’s impact and community!

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