Growing up in a town right on the Ohio River, I always enjoyed walking along the water, watching the sunset reflect its warm glow, and feeling the breeze that cut through the Southern Indiana humidity in the summers. However, it didn’t take long for me to learn that most people thought swimming in the river was repulsive and that my town was surrounded by not one, but four ‘super polluters’. Each sunset on the river was likely interrupted by a coal barge transporting loads of the black rock to be burned. After being lucky enough to take an environmental science class in high school that actually provided accurate information on climate change and environmental degradation, I quickly developed a passion for doing my part to help protect the environment.
I also had a desire to have an impact on some of the other issues I saw the world facing, such as food insecurity, gun violence, and widespread inequality. I protested in an attempt to have my voice be heard, and I volunteered with organizations to try and make a difference. I took a gap year after high school and participated in hurricane relief in Puerto Rico right after Hurricane Maria. Responding to such destruction, observing FEMA’s neglect, and watching a community come together to rebuild again allowed me to see that it was not the outsiders, neither the federal government nor people like myself, who were truly able to help Puerto Rico during this time. It was the community members themselves who formed groups and networks to distribute aid and respond to the crisis, and who knew best what was needed. I recognized that weather events like Maria would become more frequent and extreme as an adequate climate change response was lacking, and that something needed to change in how community voices were prioritized in decision-making processes. This, along with my other experiences, led me to complete my BA in Philanthropic Studies from the IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, with a minor in Political Science. I learned of the impact of intersectionality, the importance of recognizing cross-cultural understandings of generosity, the benefits of advocacy, the need for changes in policies, and so much more. I also had a chance to work with an environmental policy nonprofit based in DC and with the United Way of Central Indiana on their Government Relations team. In order to continue these learnings, I am currently pursuing a Master’s degree in the same field.
My time as an undergraduate developed my passions for the environment, volunteering, and protesting into a pursuit of a career in advocacy in the nonprofit sector. I want to help educate others on the issues, bring awareness to solutions, and help the nonprofit and public sector work together to provide solutions that are truly equitable and sustainable for all. Most importantly, I want to work to uplift the voices of others and shine a light on the power and importance of prioritizing the input of grassroot efforts.
As a fellow at the Hoosier Chapter of the Sierra Club, I am getting the chance to do these things in an intentional and meaningful way. I will treasure the knowledge I gain while here and will take it with me into the future, so that I can continue to be a part of the fight for a cleaner and more just world for the generations now and the generations to come.