Long-time environmental advocates often become overwhelmed with the scope of community transformation needed to carry our society through the energy and environmental challenges we face. Overwhelmed and underfunded, we can sometimes become bitter, burnt-out, or even turn away from our calling to build community, sustainability and resiliency.
Not Allen Parleir, founder and coordinator of Oklahoma City's Closer to Earth, a non-profit youth group that empowers teenagers through urban organic gardening.
Allen reports that in his thirty-plus years of working with youth, he has never been as enthusiastic and positive as he is now. As with most grass-roots projects, Closer to Earth does a lot with a little - accomplishing many goals all at once - teaching respect for the earth and for all the inhabitants of our planet, sharing skills of composting and gardening, promoting healthy choices and actions to stop climate change, and facilitating zero-waste practices by composting food from events like the annual Slow Food Picnic and the Peace Fest.
Closer to Earth, founded in 2007 as a partnership between several local organizations, focuses on developing leadership skills in the twelve interns and about 350 students per year who participate in community service and volunteer events. Teenagers learn to transform their lives by mentoring other youth and by taking responsibility through active decision-making. In turn, they transform the places they care about.
In a model Allen calls "growth through responsibility," teenagers are immediately tasked with teaching skills to other students, public speaking, and making all the key decisions needed to run a non-profit, including schedules, wages, and hiring decisions. Students are empowered to communicate effectively and to work through differences peacefully in the community garden sanctuary where they experience a sense of safety, respect, and belonging.
Although the model is crucial, Allen says that there is "just something about getting their hands in the dirt" that connects the students with the larger world and helps them feel a part of a community. Growing food also allows them to experience the empowerment that comes with providing fresh food for their families, giving the food they produce to food pantries and selling vegetables to local restaurants and stores.
With a critical grant running out at the end of 2011, Closer to Earth needs funding to pay the youth interns and a part-time coordinator, and to purchase a van for transporting students to the garden sites. However, you'll only hear this if you ask, as Allen firmly believes in practicing "attraction" rather than promotion. Although he freely shares information with anyone who inquires, Allen believes that if the group focuses on the work they are accomplishing, the universe will provide what is needed. In fact, his faith in the community has been borne out several times, most recently last week when an unexpected benefactor drove across the country to drop off a free 2009 pick-up truck for their composting operation.
Allen Parleir's faith is yielding fruit once more. Participants in the Moving Planet Oklahoma action-art-festival on September 24 will be creating and auctioning an art piece to benefit Closer to Earth. The auction will top a morning of fun, festivities, and education located at Wayne Coyne and Company's new Womb art space in Oklahoma City. The event is designed to promote and publicize the goal of becoming a top-10 state in health and sustainability - ranked highly in clean air and water, clean energy and energy conservation, walkable and bikeable communities, and local food.
Moving Planet OK is free and registration is encouraged. You can also invite your friends through the event Facebook page. Show up, bring friends, and have fun promoting health and sustainability and raising funds for a great cause.