Friday, June 14, 2013

Make an impact – Volunteer at Toxic Free NC!

by Erika Padilla-Morales, Special Projects Volunteer

You can make an impact. You have talents that can be used to make the community better. There is a place for these talents. That’s why you volunteer.

I found Toxic Free NC in April 2013. My home is in Oakland, California, one of the greenest cities in America. Bike lanes and farmer’s markets flourish among its linguistic and cultural diversity. When I moved to Raleigh with my bicycle to the Brentwood neighborhood, I was reminded that not every community benefits from curbside compost and ingrained environmental values. Brentwood is built along the Capital Boulevard Corridor where there are miles upon miles of chain and fast food restaurants and fresh organic produce is anathema.

Doing a search on the internet led me to Toxic Free NC. In addition to completing coursework this semester, I wanted to investigate and support organizations that focused on economic and environmental justice. The crawling ladybug on the website drew me in. After reviewing their focus, I wanted to contribute in some way. I felt most confident to offer support with activism, outreach, office work, office management, blogging, or researching and writing. Immediately after applying I received an email  and connected with Fawn Pattison, the Executive Director and Lynne Walter, the Associate Director for an interview. The morning of my interview was rainy. The seven mile bike ride to the office took a little longer than I anticipated. Fawn and Lynne welcomed me with a cup of tea before we discussed how I could best contribute my skills in the time I would be in Raleigh. We had a great conversation and I was excited when Fawn indicated there was a specific project I could help on!

Toxic Free NC is about connecting with community. They were working on outreach to organizations in the surrounding counties and share programming to build awareness around making your home toxic-free, green cleaning, safer pest control and, organic gardening. I would take a list that had been researched and validate the data as well as reach out to other area organizations we can partner with. In doing this project, I gained insight into the types of organizations that exist in North Carolina doing community outreach and education work. I also was in the office for a key moment in the campaign for the Toxic Free Kids Act of 2013, legislation that Toxic Free NC was advocating. The excitement in the office was palpable! And I was really grateful to get a hear from Fawn that my work was part of a grant proposal Toxic Free NC submitted to do more outreach work. My work mattered.

Toxic Free NC is a small outfit. It employs 5 people and inspires and mobilizes dozens of interns and volunteers to carry out its work. If you look to the upper left-hand shelf as you walk into the office, you will see a box labeled, “seed bombs.” I am reminded of the power of a seed. Most of the trees and plants we have around us began as almost impossibly small seeds. Over time they broke ground, branched up, and have become organisms that breathe out our oxygen, provide us food and shade. Toxic Free NC plants seeds to community improvement through legislation and grassroots outreach. It has its sights on the bigger picture without losing sight of the day-to-day impact on our communities. Toxic Free NC wants every community in North Carolina to be toxic free.

It’s been an honor to serve as a volunteer here this semester and have a taste of the quiet power that can be wielded by a small team, and feel the infectious excitement when one’s efforts are taken notice by the powers-we-put-in-place to benefit our communities. You can make the same the same impact. You are powerful.

We all find ourselves once in a while with time to offer. Consider how you can share yours and what impact your work can have on the community and the world.

Erika recently completed her spring/summer project and has just moved back to Oakland to finish her degree program. We want to thank her for her incredible work and her wonderful presence in our office!

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