2021 Austin Group EX-COM Candidates

 Harmony Zambrano

I am a native Austinite, outdoor educator, and dedicated conservationist committed to the sustainable growth of our community. I have been involved with the Austin chapter of the Sierra Club for several years now – attending outings, participating with the Climate Change Action Committee, and assisting as co-editor on the monthly newsletter. I chose to get involved with the Sierra Club because I appreciate its multifaceted approach to community engagement and advocacy. It is an organization that truly understands the links between big picture environmental issues and their direct impact on community issues such as equitable access to transportation, affordable housing, healthcare, healthy food, and safe drinking water. I am excited for the opportunity to serve in this role and help promote the Sierra Club’s mission within our community. One of my main goals would be to help educate our youth about local policy initiatives and provide more opportunities for them to get involved in our conservation and advocacy efforts. With so many feeling disenchanted with national politics right now, it is a pivotal time to show young people that they can have a direct, meaningful impact on their community.

Richard Faidley

            I joined the Sierra Club in 2001 to oppose the opening of the Padre Island National Seashore to oil and gas extraction.  But frankly, my engagement with the club was fairly dormant until a few years ago when the Austin group formed the Climate Change Action Committee; I became involved in that committee both to gain a clearer understanding of the impacts of climate change and to counter the dreadful sense of paralysis that the crisis engenders.  And indeed, it has been enlivening and uplifting to address this vexing global problem with a wonderful, committed group of fellow travelers.

            Professionally, after finishing an MS in mechanical engineering, I started my career in the late ‘80s as a research engineer at UT, and then in the mid ‘90s worked in renewable energy, authoring a biomass resource assessment for the State as part of a broader review of renewable energy resources.  While I long ago transitioned from engineering to work in the financial sector, I do still make an effort to stay abreast of the evolving -- and now de-carbonizing -- energy sector, as well as the high-level conclusions of IPCC studies and climate research.  That literature is vast and unequivocal: it all points to a catastrophe if we do not act with urgency.

            I served on the city’s Bicycle Advisory Council from 2008 to 2012, after hearing a city official present at a Sierra monthly meeting.  I have also served on church boards and in volunteer capacities at schools, and have been involved with the startup of several small businesses in the last 20 years, serving on their boards.  They weren’t all successes, but there were many lessons learned.  Perhaps the most important is active listening.

            More recently, as part of the Climate Change Committee I spearheaded an outreach team that tabled at the downtown farmer’s market and other venues. That effort was cut short by the pandemic, but hopefully we can return to it soon.  The overwhelmingly positive energy and feedback from those events reminds me that we are promoting ideals that resonate with most Americans.  Young people especially get it: they know that the future that’s at risk is theirs.  Engaging younger club members will be a priority if I’m selected for Ex Com.

            At no time in the club’s nearly 130-year history has our mission of promoting “the responsible use of the earth’s ecosystems” and “restoring the quality of the natural and human environment” been more critical than the present.  As the nation’s oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization, the Sierra Club has the reach to act on these aspirations, and we can have fun doing so.  I believe we can more effectively distill engagement opportunities to club members, and seek more creative ways to convey our positions.  If I am honored to serve on Ex Com, I would collaborate with other committee members to achieve these ends.

Brenda Berstis

From the time that high school counselors asked juniors to name a field of study for college, (ha!), my focus has been math & science.In Minnesota, I participated in NOW, the National Organization for Women, while working as Pediatric Pharmacy Director at Mayo Clinic. Results from work with NOW have been less than hoped, with little gain for my daughters to realize. The work continues.Family vacations entailed driving to mainland US national parks, camping out & exploring. My daughters saw much to admire & they react immediately to rollbacks on environmental regulations (100 in 4 years, we hear..) and to permissions granted to corporations harming the environment and people, without a commensurate commitment to mitigation or corrective action.

Installing solar at my Austin home, in the 90’s, was wonderful, as was, witnessing extended community enthusiasm for Austin’s solar commitment, at the time. Only this past year, did I learn how public interest and focus on a solar goal in Austin, in the 90s, was thwarted.

My 45 years as a pharmacist in healthcare, brought me to new levels of focus on disregard for the safety of our environment and people. Ten semesters of chemistry aided me in providing data behind the reasons for added budgetary line items on numbers of jobs with differing results.

In the past 7 years, I have experienced the gift of accompanying Sierra groups camping, hiking and doing service work in Sequoia National Park. I’ve attended meetings and some events with Citizens Climate Lobby. I’m focused on efforts which bring children together as potential future leaders in their communities & I hope to attend & inspire interest in my grandsons and others.

This past year, working with Sierra climate committee, I had the opportunity to explore paths on which I have the option to dedicate my time, in retirement. Meetings with the climate group, led me to serve on the research and tech support committee. I accepted a later opportunity, to join coalition group meetings with impressive citizen expertise, formulating proposals for Austin 

Raphael Schwartz

Not long after relocating to Austin a few years back I came across the Sierra Club through the group's impressively active outings program. I stuck around when I found an uncommonly dedicated group of people making an effort to create an inclusive community, discuss important issues and organize to take action.

The Sierra Club's ideals, "to explore, enjoy and protect the planet" hit home hard for me. Being involved with a variety of the Austin group's initiatives over the last few years has provided me with a tangible outlet during a time of national environmental deregulation and, of course, worsening climate change. There is no question that climate is having a moment these days. In my experience many Austinites today would be glad to be given an opportunity to have a louder voice and become more involved in environmental causes. To me this is why organizations like the Sierra Club that fill the role of public outreach are increasingly important.

One silver lining of having waited far too long on climate change is that there is now evidence literally all around us. Between record sea level rise on South Padre Island and largest-ever fires in California/Colorado the urgency to do something is becoming pretty undeniable. The next few years will be an important time to channel public engagement as more citizens demand that our governments make responsible decisions. I would be grateful to help the Sierra Club further its mission to engage and inform Austin on these issues. Thank you for your consideration!

Victoria Hendricks 

Why the Sierra Club?

In a world out of balance, the balance in the Sierra Club’s mission statement attracts me.   We are not called only to explore and enjoy the earth, but to protect it.  And, in a society too often divided and contentious, we are called to pursue this mission together, in community, using the talents and meeting the needs of all.

Since childhood, exploration of the earth’s variety of wild  places has brought me inspiration and comfort.  Whether learning to identify the delicate individuality of Texas wildflowers from my grandmother,  experiencing the mystery and infinity of sky when Daddy borrowed a convertible to  drive me above the clouds in the  New Mexico, mountains at dawn,  to feeling tiny and awe filled walking among the California redwoods, my soul has been awakened and soothed by the glory of nature.  But exploring and enjoying is not enough.  If we continue to overheat and eventually destroy the earth, all our actions, however noble are irrelevant.  I believe the Sierra Club sees this hard reality and has the resources, understanding, and values to effectively fight for the health of the earth and all her inhabitants, human and nonhuman.   I also believe that the Sierra Club, at this time,  is dedicated to environmental justice, the development of increasingly equal protection and enrichment of all humans, especially historically disadvantaged and persecuted groups.  For these two reasons, I hope to participate in and add to the power  of the Sierra Club to “protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment.” By serving on the Austin group Executive Committee, I believe I can help promote these goals.

What do I bring?

The grassroots nature of the Sierra Club appeals to my values and is a match for my history and skill sets. I recognize the importance of  a leadership style which does not overwhelm but guides and encourages the voices and participation of group members.  My study of leadership through graduate training in psychology, including group psychology, prepares me to balance listening and talking, to put into place the ”step up step back” focus of the Jemez principles.  I deeply believe and work to practice the principle that we are most effective as leaders when we come from love, not ego, so that it matters to us that the good work gets done, not that we get the credit.  I have had the opportunity to practice these principles on several nonprofit boards, especially as founder and president of the board of Austin’s original Mother’s Milk Bank, which successfully provided breast milk for needful babies from 1977 to the advent of AIDS in 1981.  I also served on the boards of Parents’ Warm Line and Any Baby Can and on committees which supported and implemented elementary school integration through busing in the eighties.  Within the Sierra Club, I have been active in the leadership of the Climate Change Committee, greeting members at the door when we could meet in person and making three presentations about communication.   I have been active in a number of projects including the effort to stop the Wall,  interviewing and selecting the intern for the Climate Change Committee, getting the social media team started for that Committee and taking a leadership role in the Postcard Project to encourage environmentally focused nonvoters to vote 

Increased diversity in our group, and the reduction of tension between demographic subsets is deeply important to me.  My own identities fall on both sides of the “traditional” and “marginalized “.  On the one hand, I am a white woman approaching seventy who has been the recipient of great educational and relative economic privilege all my life.  On the other hand, I am a bisexual Jewish woman who is often most comfortable with they/ them pronouns and who is part of a biracial family.  Often in my life, I have felt on the outside edge of groups, fearing being fully known would get me less accepted.  So, for personal as well as ethical reasons, creating greater diversity and acceptance in out group is important to me.    I believe I have ethics, communication skills, time, ideas and energy which will make me an asset to the Austin Group Executive Committee.  I hope you will choose me to serve a group I love in this capacity.