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.

Social Justice Session: Mental Health

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 Katie continued the series by sharing about mental health. 


Mental Health In America

Mental health is a social justice issue that affects all Americans. The following statistics are gathered from the National Institute of Mental Health.

  • Over 44 million Americans (18.9%) have a mental health condition
  • 12.63% of American youth experience Major Depressive Disorder; 62% receive no treatment
  • 1 in 5 (9 million) Americans report unmet Mental Health needs
  • Pennsylvania mental health rankings (lower numbers mean low mental illness occurrences and high access to care)
    • 14th overall
    • 21st in adult treatment
    • 6th in youth treatment
    • 15th in prevalence of cases
    • 13th in access to care
  • Policy concerning mental health
    • Opioid crisis – 2018-present
    • Mental Health Reform – 2016
    • Prevention reform – 2015
    • Early ID/ Intervention – 2015
  • Mental health affects other social justice issues
    • Criminal Reform
    • Homelessness
    • Addiction
    • Veterans Issues

Mental health is a serious issue. Know that if you are struggling, you are not alone. Talk to your primary care doctor about any concerns you may have or reach out to one of these resources:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255). Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If the situation is potentially life-threatening, call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room
  • Current and former service members may face different mental health issues than the general public. For resources for both service members and veterans, please visit https://www.mentalhealth.gov/get-help/veterans

Veterans Crisis Line : Call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1

The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people ages 13-24.

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 Madi about environmental injustice.


Above image by Josep Ma. Rosell, used with permission under a Creative Commons License.

Social Justice Session: Place and Space

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 Chloe continued the series by sharing about Place and Space.  


Place and Space

“How could our hearts be large enough for heaven if they are not large enough for earth?” – Scott Russell Sanders

Close your eyes and think of your favorite place besides your home in a town, city, or village that you’ve spent a lot of time in.

Open your eyes and reflect on the place you chose. Why did you choose it? Do you have a memory or memories associated with that place? What makes that place comforting, exciting, or necessary to you?

When geographers talk about “place,” they aren’t just talking about a physical location. In fact, there are three fundamental aspects that create a “place.” First, there is the fixed, objective aspect of place: it is a location that can be found on a map. Second, there is the “locale” of place. Locale refers to both the materials that make up the place whether that be bricks and mortar or grass and swing-sets as well as the history of the place.  And finally there is the “sense” of place: the subjective, emotional, and personal attachment that individuals have for that place. Place is a meaningful location formed through ritual and routine. It is the local library down the road or the grassy public park behind the school. Space, on the other hand, is an undefined area without these layers of personal and shared meaning.

When we think about “environmental issues,” sometimes our minds go straight to Nature, or the idea of wild animals living in far-away lands untouched by humans.  When we think about Creation Care, we might think about protecting endangered species or national parks. It isn’t about people.

In his essay “Buckeye,” Scott Russell Sanders describes his childhood home in rural Ohio, now scarred and polluted. Grieving for the destruction of this place he loves, Sanders says:

“We had no shared lore, no literature, no art to root us there, to give us courage, to help us stand our ground. The only maps we had were those issued by the state, showing a maze of numbered lines stretched over emptiness. The Ohio landscape never showed up on postcards or posters, never unfurled like tapestry in films, rarely filled even a paragraph in books.”

This destruction of places is deeply connected to our nation’s racist history. White settlers, for example, saw this land as empty space, while the Native Americans that already lived here saw the land as a place, full of memory and meaning. What might be empty space for us, might be a sacred place for someone else.

The way that we see place and space has everything to do with the racism and ecological devastation built into our system. The theologian and pastor, Dr. Willie Jennings describes in his lecture “The Origin of Race,” the relationship between race and place, and he reveals the Church’s involvement in creating the current system of injustice. Sanctioned by the Church, White settlers forcibly displaced both Native Americans and the Africans that were brought to the Americas as slaves, violently separating them from the places that were steeped in generations of meaning and cultural identity. Jennings says this trauma has become a part of the land itself as well as generational trauma of those peoples. And he reveals what our role can be in addressing this injustice and generational trauma.

First, he tells us to both learn the history of our places and the spaces and to tell their stories. We must start asking questions like, who lived here before I did? What was this building before it was a library or a church? And who are my neighbors, past and present? Through her placement at Messiah College’s Center for Public Humanities, corps member Elisabeth connects with students who work on a project called Digital Harrisburg, an online curation of the social history of Harrisburg, which includes interactive historical maps of the city as well as a series of place-based oral histories called the “Finding Home Collection.” You can learn more about the history of Harrisburg as a place and the ongoing efforts to tell those stories here: https://digitalharrisburg.com/

Second, Jennings urges us to involve ourselves in what he calls the geographic shaping of our cities, towns, and villages. The fact that poverty can lie across train tracks, or a river, or sometimes just a few streets over from wealth is no accident. It is all based on human-made decisions that become policy through city planning and zoning. And because they are human-made, we can speak out and change them. You can learn more about racially-discriminating practices like redlining here: https://smartasset.com/mortgage/what-is-redlining, or find a City of Harrisburg planning commission or zoning hearing board meeting here: https://cityofharrisburg.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/115002346628-2019-HARB-ZHB-and-Planning-Commission-Schedule

And finally, Jennings says that we must reframe our theological and cultural ideas around Christian discipleship to focus on the here and now of place. He asserts that the Church’s historical emphasis on time and God’s kingdom as a future reality in a “New Heaven and Earth” is a heresy, declaring that space and place are just as important to God as time. Because of this, we need to develop a vision for the redemption of our spaces and places, of cities like Harrisburg. For Episcopalians, we have spiritual disciplines and practices, like prayer in the Daily Office or the liturgical calendar, that focus on the temporal aspect of our incarnate faith. But what about the spatial? How do we embrace our local places and spaces? What can you do now in the season of Lent to learn, confess, or fight the injustice within your city, town, or village?

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 Katie about mental health.


Dr. Willie Jenning’s lecture “The Origin of Race” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5ZGwuwcHV0&t=2542s

Scott Russell Sanders, “Buckeye,” https://www.terrain.org/essays/29/sanders.htm

Tim Cresswell, Place: an Introduction

Above image by Manchester Archives+ in the public domain.

Behind the Placement: Chloe

It can be difficult to know exactly what a service year looks like. In addition to the communal interactions we have as a house, each member of the Sycamore House engages in the community through a full-time service placement. For the next several weeks, you will get a peek into the world of each Sycamore House member, highlighting the unique contributions they make to their organizations. IBehind the Placement, you’ll be able to read about the projects Sycamore House Members work on, the reflections they’ve been having, and how it all ties into their year of service! 


My service placement this year is with the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Sierra Club. As a national grassroots environmental advocacy group, the Sierra Club is largely volunteer-run. The majority of my work supports the state’s Ready for 100 campaign. Short for “Ready for 100 % Renewable Energy,” Ready for 100 is a national movement advocating for clean and equitable energy. Volunteers throughout the U.S. join the movement to urge their local legislators and decision-makers to make commitments to renewable energy and offer action plans to back these resolutions.

As the Chapter’s Ready for 100 Organizing Fellow, I provide support for new and existing Ready for 100 teams throughout the state, particularly the Eastern half. I co-coordinate the statewide team, planning and facilitating calls along with my co-worker Kelsey, an organizer for Western Pennsylvania. These monthly calls are a space for volunteer leaders from across the state to join, share updates, workshop issues, and plan state efforts. I also on-board new volunteers and help start new teams in places throughout Pennsylvania. Part of this means scheduling calls with volunteers, workshopping any issues they may have or connecting them with resources, information, or online trainings. And part of this means brainstorming or helping volunteer leaders plan events in their own towns and cities to build momentum or relationships with community partners. A goal for my position is to work alongside other staff and volunteers to create a Ready for 100 “toolkit” to provide easily-accessible, Pennsylvania-specific resources to teams so that the state team can move towards greater self-sufficiency before my position ends.

Over the past six months, I have greatly appreciated the way the Sierra Club as an organization and Ready for 100 as a campaign are both so dedicated to equity as part of a holistic approach to environmental issues. Ready for 100 commits to follow the “Jemenz Principles” for democratic organizing, which emphasize the importance of equity at all levels of a campaign or organization. They hold that there is no shortcut to just action and that justice is only done when all voices are heard.

In light of these principles, I have been challenged to model equity in the meetings that I host.  I am constantly learning new ways to facilitate discussions that allow all voices to be heard. And I have also been challenged to speak up myself, coming forward with new ideas or solutions.

The threat of global climate change and the ecological degradation of places I love have often made me feel anxious, terrified, and full of despair. I have realized that individual actions, no matter how honorable, are not enough to halt the patterns of destruction that our human greed has created. This year, however, I have learned a new way to address the destruction of our world. And that is, to organize: for the local communities, places, and people that we love.

Thank you.

-Chloe

Link to Jemenz Principles


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

Behind the Placement: Ben

It can be difficult to know exactly what a service year looks like. In addition to the communal interactions we have as a house, each member of the Sycamore House engages in the community through a full-time service placement. For the next several weeks, you will get a peek into the world of each Sycamore House member, highlighting the unique contributions they make to their organizations. IBehind the Placement, you’ll be able to read about the projects Sycamore House Members work on, the reflections they’ve been having, and how it all ties into their year of service! 


Hello everyone!

It’s crazy to think that my year of service is about halfway done. So much has happened, and I hope to carry the lessons I have learned with me as I embark on my next journey. Many of these lessons have been through my two service placements, which are at Habitat for Humanity and Beacon Clinic. Both service placements have been incredible so far, and I love the work that I am doing for both organizations.

My role at Habitat for Humanity is to lead efforts in grant writing and grant research. As you all may know, Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit organization that focuses on neighborhood and community revitalization. Due to the nature of the organization, they rely heavily on grant funding to support their proposed programs. Many different types of organizations, whether they are private or public, offer many grants, and it is my responsibility to research and figure out which grants we are eligible for. After researching and finding the right grants, it is my responsibility to start writing drafts for all of the grant questions and compile all the necessary documents for the grant application. It’s been really great to work on my writing in this position and to also see how the work that I have put in for these grants has transferred over to help with the revitalization of Harrisburg.

My role at Beacon Clinic is more people-oriented. Beacon Clinic is a non-profit health clinic serving those who are uninsured. The clinic takes in a wide variety of patients, and it is my job to conduct eligibility interviews with the new patients to determine their eligibility status for the clinic as well as help them go over any insurance questions and potentially guide them to other avenues of medical support. It’s been really great to work with patients and help the clinic with its needs. I also work closely with the director at the clinic, helping her with any administrative duties that need to be done. Serving in a health clinic has always been something that I am passionate about, and it’s been great to be a member of Beacon Clinic and to serve the underserved populations of Harrisburg.

Overall, I have been immensely grateful with the two service placements that I am in. Being in two placements means that I can experience different ways of serving the community each week, and I appreciate the diversity that comes with the two placements. I’m glad that I can do more administrative service at Habitat for Humanity, and then focus more on patient service at Beacon Clinic. It’s been an incredible journey so far here in Harrisburg, and I am excited for what’s to come!


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

Behind the Placement: Elisabeth

It can be difficult to know exactly what a service year looks like. In addition to the communal interactions we have as a house, each member of the Sycamore House engages in the community through a full-time service placement. For the next several weeks, you will get a peek into the world of each Sycamore House member, highlighting the unique contributions they make to their organizations. IBehind the Placement, you’ll be able to read about the projects Sycamore House Members work on, the reflections they’ve been having, and how it all ties into their year of service! 


Although my journey with the Sycamore House began in August, my relationship with the Center for Public Humanities started all the way back in March of 2017. While studying abroad in Thailand, I snuck away to a quiet corner of the house and made a call for an interview. On the other end was Dr. Corey and the then Program Coordinator and former Episcopal Service Corps member, Jonathan Barry Wolf. As we chatted, they explained the various facets of the Center for Public Humanities, and how, as a fellow, I would get the chance to work with young students through poetry and participate in the humanities symposium that provides a venue for many brilliant minds. I served a year as a student fellow when I returned to campus, and I’ve now had the wonderful opportunity to continue my work with the Center for Public Humanities as Program Coordinator!

My role involves many moving pieces. One of my favorite programs, Poetry in Place, invites middle school students from the Harrisburg school district to explore different aspects of the city. Whether we’re walking through the State Museum of Pennsylvania or riding on the Pride of the Susquehanna riverboat, I’m constantly learning new details about Harrisburg’s past. Perhaps one of the most sobering discoveries for me was about the Old 8th Ward in Harrisburg. Because of the efforts to make Harrisburg a more beautiful city, that entire community was uprooted and displaced from their homes. Now, the Capitol complex stands there. Thanks to the research conducted by Digital Harrisburg (another branch of the Center), students got to hear the names and learn about the lives of people who lived there all those years ago, and they wrote poetry to reflect on that experience. They blow me away every time as they connect deeply with issues like social inequality and also dream boldly to envision a better future.

In addition to Poetry in Place, I also work on campus at Messiah College, helping to coordinate the student fellows who work with the Center. During the fall and spring semesters, 8-10 students from various humanities backgrounds come together to have discussions, work on projects, and further our commitment to making our studies beneficial to and in partnership with the public beyond our campus. Last semester, several students coordinated interviews with elderly community members who shared their perspectives on education in Harrisburg. A couple of fellows have worked diligently on the Digital Harrisburg initiative, documenting the past of this city. Another team worked on cultivating a curriculum that could serve as a resource for Harrisburg school teachers, and yet another team documents this work to keep people updated on what we’re doing. I’m honored to be a part of the group, assisting where I can and learning from the students who have so much to offer.

Both as a fellow and program coordinator, I’ve been able to experience the challenges and rewards of collaboration. As we tread further into February, we prepare for the Humanities Symposium for which every member of our team has worked hard to prepare. This year’s theme is The Common Good, and we’ve been inspired by the Key Note speaker Marian Wright Edelman to learn more about education and how we must continue pushing for equity for children.  

I truly love what I do because it allows me to pursue meaningful work in a creative way. I’m thankful for the people that I work with, like Dr. Jean Corey, who has taught me so much about humility and dignity and hard work, and though I don’t know what step I’ll take next, I hope that I’ll find myself in a similar environment where creativity, social consciousness, and collaboration thrive.

– Elisabeth


Above image provided by the Center for Public Humanities.

Behind the Placement: Katie

It can be difficult to know exactly what a service year looks like. In addition to the communal interactions we have as a house, each member of the Sycamore House engages in the community through a full-time service placement. For the next several weeks, you will get a peek into the world of each Sycamore House member, highlighting the unique contributions they make to their organizations. IBehind the Placement, you’ll be able to read about the projects Sycamore House Members work on, the reflections they’ve been having, and how it all ties into their year of service! 


Hi, everyone!

Hard to believe that the Sycamore House year is halfway finished! Seems like just yesterday I was moving into the house and arriving for my first day of work as an Associate Teacher at Capital Area Head Start (CAHS).  The goal of CAHS is in its name – we are giving children a head start in life. CAHS serves low income children and their families in Dauphin, Perry, and parts of Cumberland County. I work in the Paxtonia center, a new classroom site for Head Start this year. It consists of four classrooms, and I rotate classrooms approximately every two weeks depending on needs. When I arrive in the morning, I help the teachers with last minute prep for that day. As the children arrive, I join the teachers in welcoming them to school and supervise them as they go through their arrival routine. I help serve breakfast and lunch, facilitate small group, and function as an extra set of eyes and ears (and hands!) in the classroom. My favorite part of the day is “work time,” when the children can choose what centers they play in. They have the best imaginations, and I love hearing their new ideas every day! When the children leave, I wash all of the classrooms’ dishes, then help any teachers who need to prepare items for future lesson plans. If everyone is caught up, I read about our Highscope curriculum and Pennsylvania learning standards so that I can be more aware of why we do what we do. I also attend training sessions at our main office monthly. Working with preschoolers has its own unique set of challenges, but at the end of the day, I know I am making a difference. There is nothing better than seeing a child learn and grow right before your very eyes and knowing that you played just a small part in it. I love my job!

– Katie


The above image by Brian Hart, used with permission under a Creative Commons License.