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Archive for : Environment

Meet the teenage activist trying to build a climate-change movement in Pittsburgh

This article originally appeared in the Pittsburgh City Paper on June 26, 2019.

By Emily Wolfe

Leandra Mira is a little worried the people who pass her think she’s a doomsday prophet.

It’s the “11 YEARS” poster that might cause confusion, propped up next to Mira’s regular perch in Downtown Pittsburgh, right on the City-County Building steps. Those 11 years, some climate researchers say, are all that’s left to prevent irreversible damage from climate change.

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Repair the World Highlight: Nisha Blackwell of Knotzland

By Rachel Bukowitz

Nisha Blackwell is a self-taught seamstress and founder of Knotzland, a company dedicated to sourcing and rescuing high quality materials and repurposing them into unique, handcrafted bow ties. Born and raised in the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Nisha now works with local women in the community by teaching them to sew and make bow ties for Knotzland. Nisha has created a business that supports people and the environment, all the while creating fabulous bowties!

What was your inspiration in starting Knotzland?

I love reuse and reclaiming. Essentially, I’m really passionate about using things that exist already to make things that we want to exist. I initially made a hair bow for friends daughter, and then one thing lead to another and now I’ve ended up in bowtie space.

Can you share a story or example of the impact that Knotzland has had?

There are so many stories, one of my favorite impact areas is working with local women in the seamstress industry. I train women [to make bow ties]. They come in and pick up their supplies and then do their pieces at their home and then they bring them back. The community of women is really special and has impact on the outside community.

What has been the biggest challenge you faced in founding and running Knotzland?

It’s challenging to always be thinking about what growth looks like. People want to scale fast, but I want to scale intentionally and ethically. The bowtie world doesn’t mean scaling fast.

How has investing in sustainability been good for your business?

It’s refreshing for people to see and hear how impactful it is to reuse things that already exist. There has been a huge education component involved. This is slow fashion; it’s not at your doorstep like Amazon Prime. I usually have to have that conversation with customers, explaining why slow fashion is good for the environment.

What is something you are working on now that you are proud of or excited about?

My most recent project was commissioned by City of Pittsburgh through Innovation and Performance (IMP) Inclusive Innovation Week. On the project I was proud to continue working with Darrell Kinsel, a local artist from BOOM Concepts, to make bow ties that were very direct and powerful. We got together and made bow ties with words on them like “Collaborate”, “Peace”, “Equity”, “Innovation”, and “Inclusion” The bowties were then purchased by the City for the ambassadors to wear during Inclusive Innovation Week.

I am proud to make a statement with a brand. Knotzland focuses not just on environmental aspects of the world, but also on social good.

What was it like to be chosen for Facebook’s Small Business council?

[Nisha was chosen to be in the 5th class of Facebook’s Small Business Council which is a private group that consists of 60 members from all types of different companies]

It was a crazy experience! I flew to the Facebook headquarters in San Francisco and had two days of intensive training on topics ranging from creating great content, to advertising, to actually using products. They provided us with a lot of Instagram insight on how to capture audiences and create effective content. Overall, they advised us on tools that help small businesses. Since small business owners usually do a little bit of everything, there is not as much time to learn some of these things like there is in a large business where they can hire a person to do one thing full-time. They answered a lot of our questions and offered us amazing networking opportunities.

Is there anything else you (Nisha) would like me to know, or have included in Repair the World’s blog?

I would like to say that I really appreciate Repair the World. Repair the World provides a platform and space for social justice. Also, Fellows have been customers of Knotzland! Zack [Block, Repair the World Pittsburgh’s Executive Director] and the Fellows have been really supportive of Knotzland.

No More Waste

This article originally appeared in the Detroit Jewish News on April 19, 2018.

Hazon Detroit serves up healthy heaps of compost — just in time for Earth Day.

In the North End neighborhood of Detroit near historic Oakland Avenue, there is a large patch of land where houses used to stand, houses where Jewish immigrants first began their American journey, that in time became the homes for some of Detroit’s most important black cultural figures, including Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin and so many more.

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Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands Response

Following the destruction in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands created by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, we, like many of you are asking ourselves: How can we support the communities who have been devastated by this natural disaster?

There are many amazing organizations that could use our support in this time to act locally supporting those in need by organizing resources and funds to help them expand capacity to do their work.

With destruction this intense, we can assume that recovery is going to take a long time, and a lot of support. We encourage you put a note in your calendar, one month, six months, and one year from now to find opportunities to support ongoing and essential recovery efforts.

Below are a compilation of national and local organizations giving direct aid to those directly affected by Hurricane Maria.

Please keep in mind as you organize support:

  • Be a thoughtful supporter. Conduct your own research on these organizations and how they are responding to the disaster in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. What is their process of accountability to local communities? How do they spend the money they make? Charity Navigator is one tool you can use.
  • During this time of natural disaster, the people most vulnerable in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are ones who are the most vulnerable on a daily basis (individuals experiencing poverty, people of color, the elderly, undocumented immigrants, LGBTQ communities, and others experiencing institutional oppression).
  • We urge you to give to organizations with strong ties to local communities and/or are led by local directly impacted communities. They will best understand the needs and how to address them.
  • Give what you can, and know that as we all learn more about the situation, there might be additional opportunities to support Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, including upcoming volunteer opportunities. If at this moment in time you are not able to give resources or money, focus locally on supporting folks who are also experiencing oppression and adversity in your own communities.
  • Donate money, gift cards, or specific items that are being asked by organizations on the ground.

If you organize or participate in volunteer trips, we suggest the following:

  • Get training BEFORE you go.
  • Ensure that your presence where you’ll be staying won’t displace residents and force them to find alternate housing, assuming it’s available
  • If you have collected financial donations, consider whether it will be more impactful to bring those in cash.
  • Review these suggestions on how to have the best possible health volunteer trip and the strongest impact.

Tips to Organize a Pop-Up Giving Circle

  • Want to join together with your friends, family, neighbors, colleagues or teammates to help those affected by the hurricanes? Host a Pop-up Giving Circle! Ask everyone to contribute some funds, pool them, and then decide together how to give them away. You’ll make a much bigger impact than you could have on your own – and it’ll help everyone learn about what they can do to help. All it takes is 90 minutes – here’s an easy-to-use Facilitator’s Guide and Participant Workbook from our friends at Amplifier, and a great selection of relief organizations is below.  
  • If you do end up hosting a Pop-up Giving Circle, please let us know – we’d love to hear how it went and what organizations you chose to support. Any questions? Be in touch: [email protected] or [email protected]

Resources to Inform your Response:

Articles about Hurricane Maria’s Impact on Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands:

National Organizations:

AmeriCares

Americares is a health-focused relief and development organization that responds to people affected by poverty or disaster with life-changing medicine, medical supplies and health programs. Donate to provide emergency medicine, supplies, and medical outreach as Americares responds to the urgent needs of people already devastated by Hurricane Irma who are now caught in Hurricane Maria’s destructive path. 

Catholic Charities USA

Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA)is the official domestic relief agency of the U.S. Catholic Church. Your donation to CCUSA’s Disaster fund supports disaster response and recovery efforts including direct assistance, rebuilding, and health care services. 100% of funds raised are going to those affected.

Hispanic Federation

Hispanic Federation has launched the UNIDOS Disaster Relief Fund to help meet hurricane and earthquake-related needs and recovery in Puerto Rico and Mexico. 100% of your gift to UNIDOS goes to help children, friends, and families recover from the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria and the Mexico City earthquake.

Jewish Federations of North America Hurricane Fund

JFNA’s network of local and international partners serves Jewish community members and all in need quickly, effectively, and with personal care. They fund urgently-needed basics like food and medicine, and long-term needs like trauma counseling.One hundred percent of funds raised will be used to help those impacted by catastrophic flooding and damage caused by hurricanes in 2017.

JDC

The JDC is the world’s leading Jewish humanitarian aid organization. When you give to JDC’s Disaster Response efforts, you ensure they can continue search and rescue operations after the earthquake in Mexico — and you provide hygiene kits, safe drinking water, and psychosocial support to victims of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

INCA Relief (Muslims for Humanity)

ICNA Relief is working on coordinating efforts and preparing to dispatch human and financial resources to Puerto Rico and those affected by Hurricane Maria. ICNA Relief is well experienced in disaster relief, and has responded to over 51 disasters within the USA since 2001. ICNA Relief is a board member of the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (NVOAD.org).

Islamic Relief US

Islamic Relief USA is a community of humanitarians–staff, volunteers, affiliates, supporters, partners, donors–who have been working together for a better world for nearly 25 years. People on the ground in Puerto Rico need water, food, generators and so much more. IRUSA is working with local partners on the ground to provide urgent aid.

Save the Children

Children and families in Puerto Rico are still reeling in the wake of Hurricane Maria’s devastating, direct hit. Save the Children’s relief experts are on the ground right now, doing whatever it takes to care for the most vulnerable in any emergency: children.

Puerto Rico

Hurricane Relief Fund for Trans & Queer Boricuas

The purpose of this fund is to provide direct cash assistance to trans and queer Boricuas whose lives, homes and/or property have been impacted by Hurricane Maria. Funds raised will be given directly to trans and queer folks who request it.  Funds may be used for anything from food and water to clothing, phones, medication/hormones, or whatever needs people self-identify. They seek to provide this support based on self-determination and an honor system.  

JCC Puerto Rico

This special fund will be used to aid their Synagogue and vulnerable communities in Puerto Rico.

Maria: Puerto Rico Real-Time Recovery Fund

100% of donations to this fund will go exclusively to long-term relief for the victims of catastrophic Hurricane María in Puerto Rico. This fund has been organized and is managed by the non-profit ConPRmetidos in partnership with Foundation for Puerto Rico, a 501(c)(3) corporation, which is acting as the fiscal sponsor.

The Hurricane Maria Community Relief & Recovery Fund

The Hurricane Maria Community Relief & Recovery Fund will be housed at the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD).  One hundred percent of monies raised will be used to support immediate relief, recovery, and equitable rebuilding in Puerto Rico for the communities hit hardest by the storm. The Fund is governed by organizations like Puerto Rico-based Taller Salud, the G8 of Caño Martín Peña, and other local, grassroots organizations.

Unidos Por Puerto Rico

Unidos Por Puerto Rico is an initiative created by the office of First Lady Beatriz Rosselló and a private sector group who joined forces to help those in Puerto Rico who lost their belongings during the Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Voices for Puerto Rico

VOICES FOR PUERTO RICO (Voces por Puerto Rico) is a nationwide grassroots humanitarian and nonpartisan initiative by Puerto Rican artists and influencers residing in the US to support rural and/or disconnected local communities affected in Puerto Rico by natural disasters and economic challenges.

The U.S. Virgin Islands

21 U.S. Virgin Island Relief Fund

Basketball player Tim Duncan was 13 years old when Hurricane Hugo ripped through his home town in the Virgin Islands, and had his life and community forever changed.  He will match financial donations up to $1,000,000 for relief efforts in the US Virgin Islands. In addition, he is also hoping to raise an additional $1,000,000 through this ask in relief supplies for this area.  

All Hands Volunteers USVI Hurricane Response

In light of the almost absolute devastation experienced in the US Virgin Islands, All Hands Volunteers has sent an Immediate Response Team to USVI, starting with St. Thomas. Given the massive health concerns created by the dwindling non-potable water supply, one of their first projects will be to clear paths to several natural springs so people without their own water source can flush and shower.

Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency

The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) is a regional inter-governmental agency for disaster management in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). Your donations will provide humanitarian support to the affected populations; purchase relief supplies; and support early recovery and rebuilding efforts in the impacted states.

Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands

In response to the devastating impact of Hurricane Irma, the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands (CFVI) has established two funds to collect and distribute monetary donations for the purposes of providing immediate relief and supporting long-term community renewal efforts.

Family Resource Center, Inc.

Family Resource Center, Inc. (FRC) is a private non-profit agency incorporated in 1987 to establish a counseling program and a shelter for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Our services began in 1986 with the opening of our emergency shelter for women and children. Since that time FRC has expanded its services to include all victims of violent crime and families in crisis.

The Women’s Coalition of St. Croix

The Women’s Coalition of St. Croix’s mission is to support and empower people impacted by violence. They offer assistance to women, children and men who are survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and other crimes.

Repair the World People: Horace Bradley

In the month leading up to Passover, Repair the World is sharing stories that highlight the on-the-ground ways our fellows, volunteers, and partner organizations serve in solidarity to turn the tables on racial injustice. Today, meet volunteer extraordinaire, Horace Bradley. Then, join our Passover campaign and help us serve in solidarity by hosting and volunteering. Together we can #ActNowForRacialJustice.

Choosing to volunteer is, when you really think about it, pretty heroic. We’re all busy folks – with school, with work, with family obligations, with…life. So the act of purposefully carving out the time to help someone else, or to help a whole community or the planet is pretty much worthy of a standing ovation.

One of the things we strive for at Repair the World is to create meaningful volunteer opportunities that let everyday people (that’s all of us) become everyday heroes. We have a lot of everyday heroes who volunteer in our partner cities, but Horace Bradley is one of the most dedicated.

By day, Bradley works as a customer service agent at Target. But in his spare time over the last two years, he has volunteered regularly with Philly Farm Crew – urban farm/garden volunteer workdays which we run in partnership with the Jewish Farm School. During Farm Crew days, volunteers get their hands dirty in the soil, doing work on vacant lot gardens and urban farms around Philadelphia.

Farming is labor-intensive work that requires persistence and commitment throughout the growing season. Without volunteers like Bradley, the work of planting and harvesting vegetables, weeding the gardens, building a greenhouse, and constructing a Cobb oven (all things done during Philly Farm Crew days) simply wouldn’t happen. “Farming is a great way to commune with nature and with others,” Bradley said.

In addition to the Farm Crew, Bradley has been involved with Repair the World in a variety of other ways – baking loaves of bread with Challah for Hunger, sorting books at a public school library, and packing food for people in need. He also joined one of Repair the World’s alternative break programs in Detroit. “It was my first time volunteering so far away from home,” he said. During the trip, he and the other volunteers boarded up abandoned homes.

So what inspires someone like Bradley to make such a deep and lasting commitment to volunteering – to get bitten by the service bug? Service is a two-way street. When done well and thoughtfully, service work benefits a community in need in innumerable ways. But it also. “Repair the world has changed aspects of my life,” Bradley said. “I think about food differently thanks to Philly Farm Crew, and I’m more outgoing now. But the most rewarding aspect is just being there, helping others.”

Check out the cute video Bradley made about his experience volunteering with the Philly Farm Crew.

Life After a Repair the World Fellowship: Ariel Wexler

Last month, the current class of Repair the World Fellows held their final closing circles and said so long – but not goodbye! We’ve been incredibly inspired by their work as change makers during their fellowship year, and are excited to keep up with them in the months and years to come.

Here’s Ariel Wexler who was one of Repair the World’s Food Justice Fellows in Pittsburgh. She took some time to share the impact she was able to have on others over the course of the year, and the impact the fellowship had on her. Read on, then find out more about becoming a Repair the World Fellow.

What drew you to being a part of the Fellowship?
At UC Santa Cruz where I went to college, I became extremely passionate about environmentalism. My main focus was on the complexities of the food system and practices of sustainable agriculture. Growing up in a strong Jewish community and being fascinated with the history of the Jewish people I decided to minor in Jewish Studies. I thought that the Repair the World fellowship would be the perfect combination of both my interests in food justice and the Jewish community.
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Snapshots from the Jewish Food Justice Movement

This post was created in partnership with Jewish Food Experience, a project focused on bringing people together around Jewish food, culture, and tradition.

What does food justice look like on the ground? That depends on where you are. Across the country, urban and rural communities of all sizes struggle with food insecurity and uneven access and availability to healthy food. But the particular challenges these communities face change from place to place—and the movement shifts in response to those changes.

Repair the World partners with local organizations and volunteers in multiple cities—Pittsburgh, New York City, Detroit and Philadelphia—and on multiple fronts to galvanize food justice movements that reflect and prioritize each city’s specific needs. Recently, we reached out to our food justice Team Leaders, who are working with these communities to get a firsthand account of what food justice looks like from their vantage point. Read on:

What is the most pressing food justice-related challenge in your city?
PITTSBURGH
There are 2 Pittsburghs: the rust belt comeback story people talk about, and the segregation and separation that is keeping blacks, other minorities and individuals living on the margins from being able to access and partake in the “new” Pittsburgh. This affects the food movement as well. Farmers markets, urban agriculture and all the hot new eateries mainly serve the white, wealthier classes of the city. So how does our city continue to progress and move forward without leaving people out? – Greg LaBelle, 25

NEW YORK CITY
Hunger is the most salient food justice challenge for New York City. The high cost of living in NYC doesn’t just prevent people from consuming healthful foods, it straight-up prevents them from being able to purchase enough food. Some government and private programs help alleviate the hunger, but they are not sufficient and have physical and/or psychological barriers to entry. – Sam Sittenfield, 25

PHILADELPHIA
The availability and distribution of healthy food options throughout the city is pressing. Philly is the poorest large city in America. Food resources tend to be concentrated in the wealthiest areas while under-resourced areas have more corner stores (which often lack fruits and vegetables) and fewer grocery stores. – Bridget Flynn, 23

DETROIT
I think the most pressing food justice challenge in Detroit is childhood hunger. In southeastern Michigan, 1 in 5 children is food insecure and over 300,000,000 children qualify for free or reduced lunch in schools. Without consistent access to nourishing food, children and adults are not able flourish. – Erin Piasecki, 25

What role can/should Jewish food advocates play in helping address this challenge?
PITTSBURGH
Jewish organizations and advocates can truly support the people fighting these issues when they understand how best to support the individuals and groups that need help. It is crucial that we not overpower the people who need help and not diminish the focus on them and their struggle.

NEW YORK CITY
The first thing that we need to do is to educate ourselves. Many of us in the Jewish community come from privileged backgrounds and will never truly understand hunger. We can, however, start to understand the context and how pervasive it is in our communities.

PHILADELPHIA
I have seen Jewish food advocates help to make positive change in the food justice sphere by listening to community needs and providing the resources to fill them. A major part of ally-ship is active listening before taking action. Jewish texts can also be used as a tool for food justice education.

DETROIT
Jewish food advocates have tremendous power to keep hunger, and particularly the plight of hundreds of thousands of hungry children, in the public eye through awareness raising campaigns, food drives, and other volunteer driven initiatives in their communities. By supporting and collaborating with longstanding institutions advocates can amplify and concentrate their fundraising and other efforts to eliminate 21st century hunger.

Find out more about Repair the World’s food justice work, including #SupportforRefugees, a Passover campaign focused on the global refugee crisis, and how you can become a future Repair the World fellow. Big thanks to some of our wonderful local food justice partners: Grow Pittsburgh, Keep Growing Detroit, Jewish Farm School in Philadelphia and Hunger Free America in NYC.

Tu Bishvat Across America (Find an Event Near You)

New Year’s Eve has come and gone which means it’s time for 2016’s first Jewish holiday: Tu Bishvat! Commonly called the holiday for the trees (or Jewish Arbor Day), Tu Bishvat is an ancient holiday that has evolved and changed throughout the centuries into a celebration of tikkun olam (repairing the world), connecting to the environment, eating seasonal and ancient biblical fruits, and having fun at seder celebrations.

Over the last decade, celebrating Tu Bishvat has moved from the fringe to the mainstream. There are lots of great opportunities and events to honor Tu Bishvat around the country. Whether you’re a synagogue goer or more of a nature lover (or both), find one near you and plug in!

New York City (with Repair the World!): On January 24, join Repair the World and Kolot Chayeinu for a mystical Tu Bishvat seder experience. Meet our awesome NYC Fellows, sing, sample a delicious variety of fruits and nuts, and get hooked into the interconnectedness of all things.

New York City: If you are looking for something truly unique this Tu Bishvat, head to the 92Y’s Enchanted Rainforest Tu Bishvat Dinner on January 22. This earth friendly dinner includes lots of locally sourced fruits and veggies and tropical sounds to highlight some great singing.

New York City: Love great music? Celebrate the holiday of the trees on January 25 at the Manhattan JCC with a concert featuring some of the city’s most compelling artists.

Chicago: On January 26, head to the Chicago Botanical Garden for a family freindly Tu Bishvat celebration. Plant a seedling, enjoy a special Tu Bishvat book reading, and explore the trees in the greenhouse.

Philadelphia: The City of Brotherly Love’s own Morris Arboretum is celebrating Tu Bishvat. From January 24-31, student groups can take part in an interactive tree education program. They’ll even get to take home a birch tree seedling.

Washington DC: The DC JCC is hosting multiple Tu Bishvat events this year – a family seder on January 25 and a brunch on the 31st that’s equal parts earth-friendly and entertaining.

Berkeley: Urban Adamah’s “divine sensory” seder (featuring farm crafted libations and a six course local, kosher menu) is sold out for the year. But check it out online because it looks amazing – and mark your calendar to get tickets early next year!

San Diego: On January 24 the Leichtag Foundation will host the Food Forest Festival, an all-day celebration featuring tree planting and a live concert.

Seattle: Have a little person in your life? On January 21 take them to The Seattle Public Library for a special Tu Bishvat story time co-sponsored by PJ Library.

Redwoods, California Join Wildnerness Torah on January 24 for an experiential and totally natural Tu Bishvat seder in the Redwood forest. Where better to celebrate than amongst the trees?

DIY / Anywhere: Don’t see an event in your area? Make one yourself! The awesome Jewish sustainability organization, Hazon put together a great collection of resources on their website to help you plan your own amazing Tu Bishvat seder.