Here at St. Stephen’s Community House we have a set of six core values that highlight what we believe and practice as an organization. For those that aren’t familiar, those are:
We live our faith through service to others and love of neighbor.
We recognize the inherent value of all people.
We build and maintain lasting relationships.
We seek long-term stability for our families, our community, and our organization.
We stand as a voice for the voiceless in Linden.
We commit to meet the ever-changing needs of our community.
It may not be clear when reading the list at first but doing our part to be good stewards of the earth and protecting our environment is deep-seated in those values. Let us explain.
On this Earth Day 2021 Pope Francis, delivered a strong message to the world saying, “act with courage, work with justice and always tell people the truth, so that people know how to protect themselves from the destruction of the planet, how to protect the planet from the destruction that many times we trigger.” He added, “humanity either must live up to its responsibility or continue on a path of self-destruction.” Our faith mandates us to serve others with compassion and love our neighbor, this applies all too well to protecting our planet. Loving our neighbor aligns with loving our planet, it can be as simple as picking up litter on your city block, organizing a tree planting day in your neighborhood, starting a garden with your neighbors. Small moves over time make a large impact – we all must start somewhere.
“One thing I am trying to do for the planet is to make a lot small lifestyle changes. It is easy to get overwhelmed by the fear of climate change, but if each person makes little changes: recycling, using reusable bags, cleaning up their neighborhood, etc., we can see a real difference. It will take all of us to make a difference.” St. Stephen’s Community House Marketing Coordinator Madison Massey said.
All people have inherent value. Unfortunately, our neighbors in communities of color have suffered with declining infrastructure that has impacted the health of families for generations. According to the Princeton University Student Climate Initiative, “communities of color are disproportionately victimized by environmental hazards and are far more likely to live in areas with heavy pollution.”
Much of this decline in infrastructure is caused by rollbacks from government policies that put these communities especially those that deal with pollution in greater risk of health disparities which will lead to increased rates of asthma, lung disease, and cancer.
“As a kid, in the neighborhood where I grew up, pollution was never far from my mind. We had a chemical plant less than ½ mile from our backyard. In September of 1997, there was an explosion of an 8,500-gallon resin kettle that killed one worker and injured four others. That explosion released a phenol/formaldehyde resin over our neighborhood and into a water pit and forced the evacuation of at least 15 homes, including ours. This explosion also led to a $22 million lawsuit settlement for the people of my neighborhood and an eventual cancer diagnoses for my mother and many other members of the community,” Tommy Ferguson, St. Stephen’s Community House Education Coordinator said.
Clean air matters. Clean water matters. And yes, even Black lives matter. We have seen it for far too long in communities where the dignity of every human being is not respected, from the prolonged impacts of red-lining, poor environmental reform, climate change and more. Respect for our planet and the respect for the dignity of life go hand in hand.
St. Stephen’s opened its doors on the south side of Columbus in 1919. As one of the first settlement houses in central Ohio, the primary focus of our agency at the time was to help bring a sense of community to new immigrant populations by way of language and citizenship classes, women’s and men’s groups, youth events, and much more. In the 1960’s, we moved our center to Linden planting roots in a community that has now been our home for 60 years. Our community neighbors built this agency to what it is today and where it will be going in the future. It was our neighbors of color that started our first garden, selling produce to raise funds to clear land for the building we are in now on 17th Ave. That garden grew into an Urban Farm, that will be re-opening this year, welcoming back students to lead the charge in sustainable farming and growing for future generations. If you would like to be a part of this effort you can sign up for email alerts here.
Baba Dioum, who is an 83-year-old Senegalese forestry engineer, once said, “In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.”
Mr. Ferguson adds, “We are asked at times from people, why are we teaching this as a Settlement House? The answer is simple. We are all interdependent, we need each other, we must take care of the earth.”
Seeking long term stability for our families, our community, and our organization has a lot to do with caring for and about our planet and fighting climate change. Ian Nixson, St. Stephen’s Community House AMP Coach, agrees saying, “Growing up I remember doing projects at school for Earth Day, but not realizing the importance of it. We need to continue to educate the youth on the importance of taking care of the planet because these years are critical for fighting climate change.”
“There are some events that leave indelible marks deep in our souls. For me, it was hearing seeing the ‘Keep America Beautiful’ public service announcement that began airing Earth Day in 1971,” Mr. Ferguson adds.
“The voiceover in the commercial says, “Some people have a deep abiding respect for the natural beauty that was once this country.” He went on to say, “and some people don’t,” as a car drives by and a person tosses their fast-food bag out of the window. The voiceover ends by saying, “People start pollution…people can stop it.”
“This left a lasting impression on me. It reminded me that people are the only ones who can do something about pollution. As a Settlement House worker, it also reminded me that people are also the only ones who can stop racism, sexism and every other ism that separates and divides us,” Mr. Ferguson said.
Starting this month, St. Stephen’s Community House is proud to partner with the City of Columbus, City Council, and New Salem Baptist Church’s Community of Caring Development Foundation to pay Linden residents to beautify our corner of the world. These jobs will pay residents $15 and hour and will supply a layer of security to our residents to not only care for our planet but providing financial security to our neighbors. You can learn more and apply for this program [here] *link will be available soon, check back for details!
When we heard from our community that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education, especially during the summer was needed, St. Stephen’s Community House launched an 8-week camp to focus on those areas for our 1st thru 8th grade students. The children participating in the camp program are immersed in environmental education, everything from bugs to shrubs.
“51 years ago, when Earth Day began, I was eight years old. I was probably like many of the eight-year old kids in our afterschool program. Curious, social, and talkative. I, like many of them, learned through a Settlement House camp and afterschool program, that the world we live in will only survive if we all take responsibility for it and each other,” Mr. Ferguson said.
Advocating for our collective home through education is a fundamental cornerstone in our summer camp, it even energizes our staff to commit to do more for our planet.
“Every Earth Day I try to do something to appreciate this planet. Last year, I went on a long hike and planted a tree, and this year I am going to plant a tree and go on a bike ride with friends. Spending time outdoors is one of my favorite things to do, and this year I made the goal to not take nature for granted,” Family to Family Case Manager Justina Courlas said.
All of these values wrap up into impact. Collectively meeting the ever-changing needs of our community including environmental issues is the end goal. Environmental advocacy and education are part of our path forward to make sure our families are strengthened and our community empowered. Mr. Ferguson said it best, “…it’s not too late to join us as we seek environmental justice for all.”
Join us on virtual field tips with Mr. Tommy as your guide and learn more about our planet on our YouTube page! Click here to start your journey!