You might say Tom Libby is a super-volunteer—and not just with the Sierra Club, for whom he has held two dozen volunteer leadership positions over the past decade. “I volunteered to coach my eldest daughter’s basketball team when no one else stepped up,” he says. “I checked out every library book they had on coaching youth basketball. Eventually I become a certified referee, officiating up to 10 youth recreation league games on weekends.”
When his middle daughter became a Girl Scout, no one volunteered to lead the troop. So Libby did. “I was one of only two male Girl Scout leaders in central Oklahoma,” he says. When his youngest daughter became a Girl Scout, he volunteered to lead her troop as well. Meanwhile, he served for two years as president of “band boosters” at his daughters’ high school, helping found a city-wide high school marching band contest. “I’ll be heading up the contest again this fall.”
During the school year, Libby, an audio/video store manager, gives talks at schools about backpacking and the outdoors. Summers he conducts library workshops, teaching middle-school kids how to build model hot air balloons. His two younger daughters have traveled with him across Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas helping conduct junior balloonist workshops.
In 2003 Libby was honored by the American Hiking Society as its Oklahoma Volunteer of the Year for his work maintaining the state’s hiking trails. Two places he enjoys taking people are the Ozark Highlands, near the Arkansas border, and Robber’s Cave State Park, “where the notorious female outlaw Belle Star supposedly hid out.”
Marty Peale has lived in New Mexico for 13 years, but her Alaska license plate is still on the front bumper of her car. She was 24 when she ferried north to Juneau to become caretaker of a Boy Scout camp, two miles beyond the end of the road. “There was no running water or electricity, but there were tides and migrations, humpback whales, wolves, black bear, mountain goats and salmon. I came of age there.”
After returning to the Lower 48 to earn a master’s degree in botany/field naturalism, Peale headed back north, where in 1990 she helped establish the Alaska Boreal Forest Council. By the time she relocated to New Mexico, seeking sun in the wintertime, she had a dozen years of environmental activism under her belt, experience in locally-initiated economic development, and a commitment to using environmental advocacy to build communities, not divide them.
In 2003 Peale became Coordinator of the Valles Caldera Coalition (www.vallescalderacoalition.org). The Valles Caldera National Preserve encompasses a collapsed volcanic crater that she calls the “heart and soul” of the Jemez Mountains. “The preserve is an experiment in land management that has the potential to foster collaboration rather than wars of attrition,” she says. “We’re a watchdog group, but we bend over backwards to listen to what locals want.”
A long-distance ocean kayaker, while in Alaska Peale completed an 11-week, 250-mile paddle from Haines to Sitka. These days she rafts the rivers of the Southwest, turning to the Grand Canyon for long spells of sleeping on sand by the sound of water. Weekends have lately found her up to her elbows in mud plaster, putting the finishing touches on a strawbale house she’s built in the high desert north of Santa Fe.
While still an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, Yochi Zakai struck up a business partnership with Zapatista farmers in Chiapas, Mexico. “I wanted the university to purchase fair trade coffee to sell on campus,” he explains. “A few cafes in Ann Arbor were carrying fair trade coffee, but not many. I thought it would be great to develop a relationship with a community of coffee growers, and one of my professors suggested that we create a partnership with farmers in Chiapas.”
Zakai hit on the idea of working with Zapatista farmers, best-known for their 1994 insurgency to reclaim indigenous lands in Chiapas. “We sent student delegations to Mexico to visit coffee cooperatives, meet with indigenous communities, and learn their history,” he says modestly (Zakai led the delegations). Back in the states he found an importer, put together a business plan, and in 2004 he launched Brewing Hope, a line of fair trade, organic, shade-grown coffee that he marketed to cafes in Ann Arbor. Zakai also raised money to bring farmers from Chiapas to speak at conferences in the Midwest. He turned over the management reins of Brewing Hope in December 2005 when he joined the Sierra Student Coalition (SSC) staff in Washington, D.C.
Zakai’s SSC involvement began as a high school sophomore in Rockville, Maryland. As a senior he organized a recycling program for Montgomery County schools, putting together a report and calling a press conference where he presented it to the county council. The event garnered coverage on NPR’s Morning Edition and on the FOX ten o’clock news.
An avid backpacker, Zakai recently summited Volcán Acatenago in Guatemala.
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