By Conor Michaud, Community Stewardship Program Coordinator
In the spring of 2017, Wildlands began working with Stonehill College professor Linnea Carlson to explore potential partnerships between the college, which encourages and in some cases requires community service, and Wildlands which has been working for nearly a decade in the neighboring communities of Brockton to protect land and assist in conservation efforts within the city. With the help of Wildlands’ former TerraCorps member, Tommy Blanchard, Wildlands began the early stages of the partnership and worked with Stonehill’s Sociology department to discuss a collaboration on Brockton’s Greening the Gateway cities Program (GGCP). In the fall of 2018 the partnership was fully developed and proposed to Stonehill sociology professor Jungyun Gill, who saw the potential for impactful community service on a program designed to specifically aid Brockton’s environmental justice communities. In September 2018, a group of honors sociology students began the inaugural partnership and joined the ranks of the GGCP canvassing crew.
As we have mentioned in previous articles, GGCP is a community based project in which the success of the program relies heavily on the encouragement of community leaders and engagement of residents to put a meaningful effort forward in order to increase the urban tree canopy. Since Wildlands’ introduction to the program we have been reaching out to community members to support the program, participating in community meetings, tabling at local events, presenting to local groups and institutions, and working with Department of Conservation and Recreation foresters to increase the outreach capacity for the program. One crucial aspect of GGCP, often overlooked from these engagements, is the ability to reach the younger generations. Wildlands periodically presented to Brockton High School students on the program but when it came to reaching the cohort between high school teenage students and the older homeowner community we were missing our mark, until the collaboration with Stonehill College.
Many of us are able to think back fondly on our college education and years spent developing critical thinking skills and diving deep into the study of new found conceptions. The enlightened perception of our world which often goes hand-in-hand with the college experience is something Stonehill brought to the table during this partnership. Wildlands saw that it was imperative to involve the younger generation in projects such as GGCP which are specifically targeted at aiding those in need while reducing the local effects of climate change and helping to clean our local air and water. There is no way to get closer to these concepts then to step out into the street and knock on a strangers door to inform them of how a free tree from GGCP can benefit their home and their greater community.
A partnership with this institution was logical when professor Jungyun Gill explained that this honors sociology class would be what Stonehill College terms a Community Based Learning class (CBL). Meaning, each student is expected to engage in community development projects as a substantial portion of their grade and for this CBL class that project was GGCP. During the fall of 2018 each of the 15 students canvassed alongside Wildlands’ community stewardship coordinator for over 10 hours, contributing a total of 150 hours within the class. This massive canvassing campaign has been instrumental in the success of Brockton’s GGCP and served as a real-life grass-roots experience for each student. The project did not end there, each student was a part of a smaller group within the class, required to expand upon current outreach efforts of the project, including GGCP’s social media campaign, translating GGCP fliers into Portuguese and Cape Verdean Creole, translating a GGCP video into Cape Verdean Creole and writing an article for the school paper. At the end of the semester, each group presented their projects and passed along their final work to Wildlands, which continues to draw inspiration from these final works.
Due to the success of the fall 2018 partnership, Wildlands and Stonehill College decided to offer this opportunity to an additional sociology class during the spring 2019 semester. Students from the spring semester chose to join Wildlands’ ongoing canvassing efforts and used these outings to build upon the social justice issues discussed in their class. The class worked in groups once more to study global social justice issues and correlate these pressing concerns with the efforts to increase the urban tree canopy in Brockton. One group discussed the current clean water issues of Flint, Michigan and the water use and pollution issues associated with fabric dying and production. While another group tackled rainforest deforestation and what that means for our climate, biodiversity and local community groups. Each of these issues, while vast and complicated, are closely associated with GGCP efforts and solutions to these global crises can be taken directly from GGCP. We plant free trees to reduce pollution and increase financial savings through the reduction of energy expenditure, to prevent storm water runoff, to clean the air and to increase biodiversity.
In the simplest of terms, we plant free trees to benefit public health. These social justice issues linked with clean water, air and public health are being addressed throughout the world and their awareness is becoming increasingly known. The younger generations and students of today will be faced with finding solutions and developing upon previously implemented ideas to better our world and we see these partnerships with academic institutions as a way to kick start that progress.