Slowing Down: A Reflection on a Year of Service

This week, corps member Elisabeth Ivey shares about some of the challenges she’s faced in her year of service and offers a reflection about how she’s been able to process through the doubts and emerge with a desire to take intentional steps through life. Continue reading below! 


A year of service has its challenges, and one of the most significant ones for me was discerning if I’d made the right decision in the first place. Taking a step forward down my chosen path, I looked to either side, wondering if I should’ve chosen one of the different routes my friends had taken.

As a new college graduate, each decision I made felt heavy-laden with pressure, but despite the uncertainty, this year has afforded me time to distance myself from the frantic pace of undergrad years. Through this opportunity, I’ve been able to clearly appreciate where I am, even if I’m still unsure of what’s ahead.

A year of service can mean many things and have many manifestations, and for me, it meant slowing down, which is a reminder I continually need. Recently, I published an article with The Porch Magazine in which I explored these thoughts more deeply. Continue reading below to read how I decided to lean into a meandering way of living.

The Meandering Way


Above image by Eddi, used with permission under a Creative Commons License.

A Day in the Life

Corps member Madi Keaton shares a day in the life at the Sycamore House!

A Day in the Life of a Sycamorean
7:30—Time to get up! If the honking and screeching brakes of the cars on Front Street trying to get to work don’t wake me up, then my alarm certainly will.
7:45—Bed made? Check. Teeth brushed? Check. Face washed? Check. I quickly pick out and outfit and then head upstairs to pack a lunch. Generally, my lunch is made up of a lot of little snacks that we happen to keep around the house, like string cheese, hard boiled eggs, baby carrots, and a piece of fruit. On mornings where I feel especially groggy, I boil some water in our electric kettle to make coffee from our French press. I pour it into my trusty Mason jar, gather my things, and head to my placement!
8:30—Thankfully, my commute to the Pennsylvania Utility Law Project is only a few minutes’ walk from the house. I sign in and head upstairs to my office, where I start my computer and begin checking my email. The rest of the day varies according to the projects I’m working on. I’m either doing research or writing or attending meetings—or a mix of all three! Today, I’m working on a document detailing how to bring diversity and racial equity into the workplace. Many of this year’s trainings have been focused on creating an inclusive and equitable workplace, so I am compiling all of the notes as well as outside research into a comprehensive report that can be referred to for years to come. I am also doing other miscellaneous tasks, like writing emails, printing rebuttals for cases, and having check-ins with my supervisors.
4:30—I leave work and head back home. For now, I’m taking a break from the mental labor of work and watching Netflix until I get ready for dinner.
5:30—I begin to prepare dinner. One of my favorite things to make is tacos. I grab corn tortillas from the fridge. Then, I heat up some black beans over the stove with salt, lime juice, and chili powder. I heat up the tortillas too, melting shredded cheese between them to keep each pair together. Then, I place the black beans and a dollop of salsa on each pair. Simple, but delicious! If some of my other housemates happen to be grabbing dinner at the same time, I’ll generally sit and eat with them.
6:00—I clean up the dishes from dinner and decide what to do with the rest of the evening. Usually, I spend it doing chores like laundry or sweeping a room and then relax for the remainder of the night. Sometimes, I go out to an event, like a book talk at Midtown Scholar or a performance. Occasionally, my housemates will all want to go out and hit our favorite spot—Arooga’s! We collect the coupons off of the back of Giant receipts. They allow for one free drink or a buy one, get one free appetizer. It’s a great way to drink and eat food that is bad for you when you’re on a budget!
10:00—Time for bed! I brush my teeth, wash my face, and set my alarm for the next morning.

Above image provided by Elisabeth Ivey.

Caring in Community

Read below as Ben shares about a community outreach event! 


Just a couple weeks ago, I had to pleasure of helping Beacon Clinic run and organize their community outreach event. It was an outdoor event right outside our clinic that we partnered with other health organizations. We had organizations from Penn State Health, UPMC Pinnacle, Contact to Care, and a whole host of other organizations that were able to show up. All organizations had one goal in mind: to look after those living within the community and to spread word about the types of services offered around the Harrisburg community.

Specifically, Beacon Clinic was able to provide health screenings for the community. People were able to receive diabetes checkups and have their blood pressure checked as well. Furthermore, those who were interested were able to schedule future appointments. Reflecting back on this experience, I realize now the true importance of looking out for fellow community members. On a Saturday morning, a great number of organizations all showed up with the mindset of putting the community members first. Being a part of the Beacon Clinic team that day solidified in me the true power not only about the provision that medical care can have, but also the willingness to serve and give back to the community.


Above image provided by Ben Shao.

Native Plants: Caring for Creation in Your Backyard

Read below as corps member Chloe shares about native plants! 

What is a native plant?

Definition: A native plant is one that occurs naturally in a particular region, ecosystem, or habitat without direct or indirect human intervention. We consider the flora present at the time Europeans arrived in North America as the species native to the eastern United States. Native plants include all kinds of plants from mosses, lichen and ferns to wildflowers, shrubs, and trees.
From: http://www.panativeplantsociety.org 


Why native plants?

Because native plants are adapted to the growing conditions where you live, they are often easier to grow, and less susceptible to challenging conditions than non-native plants. Many non-native plants are also invasive, and crowd out our native plant species.

There is also a strong, ecological connection between native plants and the insect and animal world, especially the bird population.  These populations have evolved with the native plant population and have become dependent upon certain plants. For example, an oak tree can support over 500 species of moths and butterflies, amongst other insects, while a Bradford Pear (a common ornamental non-native) supports fewer than 100. The more insects, the more bird food available. Most terrestrial birds feed their young insects. So although you might be providing food for the adult birds with ornamental non-native plants, you won’t be providing food for their babies, which will ultimately impact their population.

Native plants also contribute to healthier watersheds and cleaner rivers and streams. Their deep root systems stabilize soil and protect from soil erosion, and they mitigate the chemicals in water runoff from lawns and other sources. Rain gardens, a garden design that uses native plants, can capture excess runoff from houses and remove pollutants from street water. This means a healthier Susquehanna River and cleaner drinking water.

Why bring native plants to St Stephen’s?

Planting native plants at St Stephen’s is a simple, easy way to practice creation care in our neighborhood and watershed. Through the cultivation of native plants on our ground, we can reduce runoff of from street pavement into the Susquehanna River. By choosing hardy native plants that will flourish here, we will save money on our property’s landscaping budget. We will also increase pollinator and bird habitat, promoting a healthier ecosystem right here in the city.
Planting native plant gardens on our campus is also an opportunity to educate students at St Stephen’s School and other members of neighborhood about the environment and our watershed, while letting everyone in the city know that creation care is important to us.
How can we bring native plants to St Stephen’s? 
Some suggested next steps are:
  • Present a plan for bringing native plants in Spring 2020 St Stephen’s to Property Committee, that includes financial savings
  • Work with the school on designing a native plant garden in Spring 2020 and on planning ways to sustain that garden each year
  • Plant native plants in our gardens, and share the joy with your neighbors and members of St Stephen’s!
If you would like to be involved in planning a community event with a Master Gardener here at the Cathedral in the next few months, or be a part of any long or short term work of bringing native gardening to St Stephen’s, please contact Chloe Selles at sycamorehouse@ststep.org
For the slides of this presentation, which includes pictures of some native plant species, go to: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1dLKKjZi7UcKgGQ77II-qAruNBCZ1ZjRvwjz0JL75-e8/edit?usp=sharing
Here is the copy of a “Native Gardening Guide,” which includes more information about the importance of native plants, a list of easy-to-grow native perennials, trees, and shrubs, and a list of upcoming local native plants sales.
Happy Gardening!
 
The St Stephen’s Creation Care Committee

Above image by Chris Sorge, used with permission under a Creative Commons License.

Social Justice Session: Ethical Consumption Pt. 2

During our Friday sessions, some of our time has been set aside to discuss issues of social justice. Each of us will have the opportunity to lead the conversation on a matter that’s important to us, and Elisabeth continued the series by sharing about Ethical Consumption.  

You can read part one on this topic of ethical consumption by clicking here.


Last time, we dipped into the discussion about how to go about incorporating intention into buying practices. Consider this: you’re at the store, hands on an item, and you have a decision to make. For me, that decision is, do I buy the cheap coffee, or do I buy the coffee that’s a bit more expensive but is advertised to be made in a fair trade manner? 

It can seem like a silly question, even petty. But whatever it looks like for each of us, purchasing something we want or need (which is an entirely different subject to discuss) does not always have a clear answer, and it’s important that we ask some questions that will help us unpack those complications.

  1. What makes it difficult to consume ethically? (price, convenience, etc.)
  2. What are some possible responses to these challenges?

When we expand our perspective to realize we’re not the only ones impacted by our shopping decisions, we’ll face some tough questions that challenge our generosity, our budget, and our comfort. As I shared in the first post, I don’t have the means to make a full transformation overnight. So, I take baby steps and hope that I can continue to make incremental changes with the awareness of how my actions impact those around me.


Action Steps

The Journal of Consumer Research did a study back in 2014 to answer this question:

“Why are consumers willing to spend more money on ethical products?”

And they made three motivations: “Contempt happens when ethical consumers feel anger and disgust toward the corporations and governments they consider responsible for environmental pollution and labor exploitation. Concern stems from a concern for the victims of rampant consumerism, including workers, animals, ecosystems, and future generations. Celebration occurs when ethical consumers experience joy from making responsible choices and hope from thinking about the collective impact of their individual choices.”

This study confirms that it’s necessary to take both positive and negative actions. For me, I knew that I didn’t have the means to completely transform the way that I consume materials, so I narrowed my decisions down to a couple of integral items in my life: clothing and coffee. I made the negative choice of deciding not to support companies that I couldn’t for sure say were operating ethically, so I’ve been doing as much secondhand shopping as I can. On the other hand, I made the positive choice buy fair trade coffee. So a negative choice might look like a boycott – to completely reject a company by withdrawing your support or saying that you won’t shop there until they reform. A positive choice would be one that actively seeks out organizations that are doing good and supporting them in their difficult work.

  1. Brainstorm: What items do you consider to be necessities? Pick one of those items and consider how you might alter the way that you acquire that item.  
  2. Take the Pledge: https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/pledge-be-ethical-consumer

The Catch

While it’s important that we each take ownership of our individual choices, action at the individual level is an incomplete answer. Being an individual ethical consumer is not the answer to the problem of unethical production. As Students for Sustainable Stanford point out, “Ethical consumers also need to realize that a change in the way businesses operate doesn’t only come from consumers’ spending habits. Through political advocacy and education, ethical consumers may have the ability to have stores be held accountable for the things they do to the environment.” It’s important to hold the individual and systemic in conjunction. The enormity of the problem doesn’t exonerate the individual, but the acts of the individual are not enough to completely alter the system.


Going on From Here

Clearly, this is a brief introduction to a vast web of interconnected issues regarding how things are made and how we participate in supply chain. At its surface, the discussion is about which t-shirt to buy. But at its core, these thoughts and dilemmas are about our relationships to each other and to nature. What we’re willing to buy directly implies what kind of treatment we’re willing to allow for our fellow human beings, and though the process can seem like it’s out of our hands, we possess both the individual and collective capacity and responsibility to enact change that will wipe out the injustices in the way items are made and dispensed.

You can take this introduction and go in many directions: into a reflection on privilege, on evaluating necessities, on cross-cultural connections, on advocacy, etc. Whichever thread you latch onto, I hope that you’ll be inspired and challenged to continue leaning in and incorporating thoughtful practice into your life.

I’ll leave you with these words from Dr. Nicki Lisa Cole: “when we consume, we place ourselves into social relationships with all the people who participate in producing, packaging, exporting and importing, marketing, and selling the goods we buy, and with all of those who participate in providing the services we purchase. Our consumer choices connect us in both good and bad ways to hundreds of millions of people around the world.”


Resources

  1. Fashion and Clothing
    1. App: Good on You: http://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/ethical-brand-list/?utm_medium=social&utm_source=pinterest&utm_campaign=tailwind_tribes&utm_content=tribes&utm_term=501547232_16090590_253669
    2. Apps: https://mashable.com/2015/04/24/ethical-fashion-tools/#UiXYSGwLFuqa
    3. List of ethical brands by type of clothing:
      1. http://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/ethical-brand-list/?utm_medium=social&utm_source=pinterest&utm_campaign=tailwind_tribes&utm_content=tribes&utm_term=501547232_16090590_253669
      2. http://simplylivandco.com/the-list
      3. Alternative organizations: https://theartofsimple.net/shopping/
    4. Shopping 2nd hand? Look for these materials:
      1. http://moralfibres.co.uk/shop-consciously-fashion/

Works Cited

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140916111903.htm

https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/our-ethical-ratings/oppressive-regimes-and-their-allies 

https://studentsforasustainablestanford.weebly.com/blog/the-problem-with-ethical-consumerism

https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-an-ethical-consumer-3026072

https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/fashion-clothing/what-supply-chain  

https://highline.huffingtonpost.com/articles/en/the-myth-of-the-ethical-shopper/

https://guide.ethical.org.au/guide/browse/guide/?cat=700&subcat=702&type=720

https://thegoodshoppingguide.com/fashion-retailers  

http://www.ejcr.org/ 

 

Above image by fdecomite, used with permission under a Creative Commons License.

Social Justice Session: Ethical Consumption Pt. 1

During our Friday sessions, some of our time has been set aside to discuss issues of social justice. Each of us will have the opportunity to lead the conversation on a matter that’s important to us, and Elisabeth continued the series by sharing about Ethical Consumption.  


Growing up, one of my favorite family traditions occurred not on a holiday, but the day after one. Early in the morning, when it was still dark, my sisters and I would climb from our beds, bundle up, and jump into the car my dad had warming up. As we shook the sleep from our eyes, he drove us from store to store where we tracked down the deals we saw in store ads the day before. For a long time, Black Friday was almost as magical as Christmas for me.

I’ve retained my thrifty mentality and the fond memories I have of spending time with family, but I’ve also been challenged to interrogate the mentality that pulled me from my bed so early in search of more. As a kid, I didn’t give much thought to where that coveted Barbie toy came from or how it was made. Similarly, as I got older, it was hard for me to spare much care for anything beyond the price a tank top or cute dress. In the rows upon rows of businesses that stretch across our country, few dedicate attention to the narrative attached to merchandise that ends up on the shelves, and yet a story does exist whether we see it or not, whether we know it or not. Though it’s true that we need certain things to function in our lives, I have begun a journey to scrutinize the way that I acquire those necessities, finding that some of them are not necessities at all. This journey has expanded my network of awareness beyond my place in the aisle of a store, making me see connections I didn’t know about before.


Six Degrees of Separation

In the work, Six Degrees of Separation, playwright John Guare assembles a small cast of characters to grapple with the idea that any person can be connected to another by way of six connections between them. This belief creates a web that crisscrosses between all people, pulling us together from opposite ends of the world. One of the main characters, Ouisa Kitteridge, sums up the idea below:

Ouisa Kitteridge: ‘I read somewhere that everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. Six degrees of separation between us and everyone else on this planet. The President of the United States, a gondolier in Venice, just fill in the names…I am bound, you are bound, to everyone on this planet by a trail of six people.

– John Guare

With this in mind, think of yourself as a circle with numerous concentric circles surrounding you. Not only are other people six degrees of separation from you, but so are animals and nature. Aware of these connections, how do we answer these questions:

  1. What does it mean to be an ethical consumer?
  2. Who or what is affected by ethical or unethical consumption?


An Additional Perspective

(Click “Watch on Vimeo” if the link doesn’t show up)

*There are certain views expressed in this video that may be uncomfortable and footage that is not necessarily sensitive. In addition to the main points of the video worth pulling from, I think it’s worth having a conversation about the moments where the producers could have made different choices in their video so as not to enforce stereotypes and to preserve the dignity of people they represent.

Episode 7 – Ethical Consumption from Snodger Media on Vimeo.

Main Points

Ethical Consumption: “Being an ethical consumer means, at least, understanding something about how the products we buy were made and then brought to market.”

Who’s responsible for creating an ethical work environment, and what factors influence those decisions? (Below are some of the actors in the supply chain):

  • Factories
  • Government
  • Retailers
  • Consumers

Follow-up Questions:

  1. How does the video display cultural difference explicitly? Implicitly?
  2. Who has power in the supply chain? How is power handled?

Just One Angle

From the moment you become aware of these ethical problems, it can be overwhelming to think about how to go about changing your approach to consumption. One piece of wisdom I learned from a friend is to alter a little piece at a time. While few of us can completely overhaul the way we shop, perhaps all of us can think of one item that we can begin applying more attention to.

Maybe that’s coffee and tea. Maybe it’s chocolate. When we discussed this topic, my housemates decided to focus on fashion and look at the way familiar (and unfamiliar) brands measured up. You can do that here.

Additionally, you can read about some specific issues affecting the fashion industry below:

There is little or no transparency on the conditions behind common processes in most supply chains in the clothing industry. Baptist World Aid and Not For Sale’s 2013 document, The Australian Fashion Report, identified that out of 128 clothing brands, 61% of companies do not know where their garments are manufactured; 76% not know where their garments are weaved, knitted and dyed; and 93% do not know where their cotton is sourced from.

 

Conventionally grown cotton uses more insecticides than any other single crop. (A global spend of $2.6 billion each year). This is more than 10 per cent of the world’s pesticides and nearly 25 per cent of the world’s insecticides. Many of these are the most hazardous pesticides on the market including aldicarb, phorate, methamidophos and endosulfan. These pesticides can poison farm workers, drift into neighboring communities, contaminate ground and surface water and kill beneficial insects and soil micro-organisms.

 

Sandblasting is what gives your jeans the worn-out look. Under the sandblasting process the denim is smoothed, shaped and cleaned by forcing abrasive particles across it at high speeds. This fashion however comes at a price: the health and even the lives of sandblasting workers.

Sandblasting causes silicosis which the World Health Organization states leads to lung fibrosis and emphysema. In later stages the critical condition can become disabling and is often fatal.

The International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers Federation launched its campaign to eliminate the use of sandblasting in the garment industry in 2009. In 2010 both Levi’s and H&M jointly decided to eliminate the process from their supply chains representing a major breakthrough in the campaign.

 

Uzbekistan is the world’s sixth largest producer of cotton, and the fifth largest exporter. For decades, Uzbekistan has used the forced labor of its schoolchildren starting in the early primary grades, college and university students, and civil servants, to harvest that cotton by hand. The human rights concerns surrounding Uzbek cotton production has lead to a ‘call for a boycott’ of Uzbek cotton from Uzbek and international activists. Around 70 per cent of Uzbekistan cotton is sold to Bangladesh and China, where it is turned into fabric to be used in clothes, sheets and other cotton products to be sold into countries such as Australia.

There are 14 countries where cotton is produced using child labour. Child workers in the cottonseed industry are often in a state of debt bondage and work at least nine hours a day. Pesticides used during production cause health problems for the children and they report experiencing headaches, convulsions and respiratory problems. The long-term effects of exposure to toxic chemicals have not been measured.

 

There is little transparency as to which clothing items are made by workers who are paid fairly and which clothes are made in sweatshop conditions. Modern-day slavery, which currently affects more than 30 million people, is used throughout the production of many clothing products sold on Australian shelves.

WORKING HOURS. Long working hours and forced overtime are a major concern among garment workers. Factory managers typically push employees to work between 10 and 12 hours, sometimes 16 to 18 hours a day. A seven-day working week is becoming the norm during the peak season, particularly in China, despite limits placed by the law.

WAGES. The majority of workers in the global fashion industry, rarely earn more than two dollars a day. Many have to work excessive hours for this meagre amount and struggle to properly feed, clothe and educate their families. The problem is complicated further when the millions of piece- rate workers and homeworkers within the industry are considered. When workers are paid by the number of garments they produce, rather than the number of hours they work, it becomes near-impossible to earn a living wage during a working week.

Women in El Salvador are paid just 29 cents for each $140 Nike NBA jersey they sew. To pay them a living wage, they would earn 58 cents per shirts, 4/10ths of one percent of the retail cost of the shirt.

*From Shop Ethical



Just the Start

We’ve come a long way from the aisle of the store, expanding out to see how many forms of life —people, animals, nature— are affected by the choices we make in the marketplace. But it’s not all despair. Even with giant corporations and government influences on the way the market runs, we should not underestimate the power and responsibility we have as consumers. This is just the start—next week we’ll continue the discussion as we consider just how much power we do have, how we can use it, and some other complications that factor in to the way we can change this system to no longer do damage to those around us, to those with whom we are connected.

Please join the conversation in the comments below. Have I missed something or misspoken? Please let me know!


Above image by Neon Tommy, used with permission under a Creative Commons License.

Social Justice Session: Environmental Injustice

During our Friday sessions, some of our time has been set aside to discuss issues of social justice. Each of us will have the opportunity to lead the conversation on a matter that’s important to us, and Madi continued the series by sharing about Environmental Justice.  


Environmental Injustice

In February, Madi presented on the topic of environmental injustice. Many people think of environmental justice as passing policies for cleaner oceans or signing the Paris Agreement. In actuality, environmental justice deals exclusively with the intersection of race, class, and public health.

Environmental injustice takes many faces:

Toxic waste sites

Lack of natural resources sovereignty

Lead poisoning

Garbage dump and incinerator siting

Occupational hazards

Air and water pollution



All of these different types of pollution and access to environmental resources are disproportionate when the majority race or socio-economic level of a community is considered. Households of color and those that are labelled as low income are more likely to live beside sources of pollution and health risks, like toxic waste sites, while also more likely to lack access to clean water, air, and land rights.

The history of environmental injustice is rooted in land access. When Europeans colonized America, they stole land from the Indigenous peoples. This land was then co-opted by wealthy white men, some of whom forced slaves to work it. Even when slavery was abolished, black Americans did not have the wealth to own land and were forced to work it again through sharecropping. When black soldiers returned from WWII a few generations later, they too were not allowed to participate in the benefits of the GI Bill (free education, access to a good home, etc.) like their fellow white soldiers were.

While the Civil Rights Movement and the Environmental Movement diverged in the 1960s, the fight for environmental justice was quickly growing in the latter half of the twentieth century. Cesar Chavez and the rest of the United Farmworkers fought for fair wages and the banning of certain deadly pesticides while Memphis garbage workers, led by Dr. King, went on strike to demand safer working conditions and wages paid for hours worked. Lois Gibbs brought attention to the severe health risks of living beside toxic waste dumps in Love Canal, NY while an African-American community in Warren County, NC protested a landfill proposal marked for their backyard. Even up until today, we still see high rates of asthma in black children living in urban neighborhoods, the fight to stop the building of pipelines running through water sources of marginalized communities, and the bombing of Pagan and Tinian. The fight for environmental justice is not a chapter of American history that is about to close—in fact, it is only just beginning.

The Church has a huge role in this fight. Genesis 2:15 tells us, “And Jehovah God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and keep it.” We often forget that in the Creation story, we were created second. God created the rest of the earth and saw it as good. Our first task as humans was to be stewards and caretakers of the garden—and God never told us that our job was finished. We also need to “Rescue the poor and needy: deliver them out of the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:4). This is not equivalent to the paternalistic holier-than-thou tone that the Western church has often had. Rather, this requires working side by side with our neighbors who are suffering, giving them the mic so that they can be heard, and choosing to do what’s best for the health of all of our collective future generations.

If you’re interested in learning more about environmental justice, check out the writings and work of Berta Cacares, Dr. Robert Bullard, Wangari Maathai, and Winona LaDuke.

If you have any comments or questions, be sure to start the discussion below. We will be continuing our social justice session next week with a discussion led by Elisabeth about ethical consumption of clothing and other items.


Above image by Lorie Shaull, used with permission under a Creative Commons License.