Category: Asheville, NC (page 1 of 2)

11 THINGS I LEARNED DURING MY ASB ASHEVILLE EXPERIENCE:

  1. When staying in a hostel over top a trendy brew pub featuring nightly live music, BRING EAR PLUGS!
  2. The store, Ingles, is pronounced “IN-GULLS” not “EEN-GLACE,” and it is a general – not a latino – grocery store!
  3. Baby wipes are an essential item to pack for any ASB trip – you never know when you’re going to be covered in mud or when you’re going to have to “go” along the side of a road!  HA!
  4. If you find your canoe headed for a tree, a rock, or a stream bank, it is absolutely the sternman’s (i.e., person in the back of the boat) fault…it is also her responsibility to correct the course of the boat!
  5. Although we traveled all the way to Asheville, NC to learn more about the environmental and human health impacts of coal ash, we discovered that Pennsylvania ranks #1 in the United States for coal ash generation and that there are 3 coal fired power plants with potentially dangerous coal ash disposal sites in Northampton County.
  6. Environmental justice is a profoundly anthropocentric ethic, meaning that human beings are the central moral concern.  However, I believe that, although “justice” is a human creation, there is a way to extend the definition of environmental justice to include non-human beings.  Animals, plants, and even mountains have intrinsic value and are owed ethical obligations.
  7. The most challenging aspect of any social or environmental movement is finding ways to drive the people of the community into a state of positive action – organizing the ambivalent majority into an engaged, committed, united and more forceful whole capable of making significant change.  As Sandra Diaz of Appalachian Voices put it, getting the community on board can be like trying to ignite a wet match – at times, success may seem hopeless but, with persistence and patience, you CAN make it happen.  This trip has shown me that, although mobilizing a community to achieve positive change is incredibly difficult, the most effective means of bringing people together are the simplest ones – community gatherings with food and fellowship (e.g., community gardens, picnics), communication through art (e.g., DeWayne’s Peace Garden, Jonathan Santos’ music), education (e.g., canvassing – examining public perception and providing accurate information about the issue), and providing green spaces and wildlife areas where members of the community can find peace, solitude, and their own personal relationship with nature (e.g., the campsite along the French Broad).
  8. Although anger, fear, and sorrow are generally considered negative human emotions, these feelings – when properly channeled – can be the catalyst for positive change.  Like the story of how Green Opportunities began in DeWayne’s backyard, we often decide to make a change when we are at our most uncomfortable.  I like the way M. Scott Peck put it in his book The Road Less Traveled, “The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”
  9. The Gilded Age was a period in American History after the Civil War characterized by enormous industrial and economic growth.  The term was coined (in part) by writer Mark Twain in a novel he wrote that satirized greed, materialism, and political corruption in public life.  We learned about the Gilded Age during our cultural day, but came to discover the deeper relationship between consumerism and environmentalism in the Peace Garden.  Shakespeare said it best: “to gild refined gold, to paint the lily, to throw perfume on the violet…is wasteful and ridiculous excess.”  For me, DeWayne’s artificial flowers symbolize this concept.
  10. The Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote, “I slept and dreamt that life was joy./ I awoke and saw that life was service./ I acted and behold, service was joy.”  Like so many of us, I get caught up in my own life and driven to acquire more knowledge, more honors, more respect, more things.  Self, self, self.  We think these “things” will bring us happiness, but, like the effect of a McDonald’s Happy Meal, we are briefly satisfied but left wanting more.  Being of service through ASB is a wonderful reminder that service IS joy – generosity, love, and compassion are sustainable forms of nourishment for the soul.  We only have what we give.
  11. I really appreciate all of the passionate people out there (especially my students) who are enthusiastic about environmental and social movements and motivated to change the world.  In an academic setting, we often have discussions about how the world could be a better place when communities, governments, and businesses change the way they do things.  However, the Peace Garden was a reminder that the first and most important step in creating positive change in the world is to take responsibility for and begin changing our own actions.  Jonathan Santos reminded us of this fact with his song, “Changing the World by Changing Me.”  DeWayne reminded us with all of the mirrors strategically placed throughout the garden, asking us to reflect on our own contribution to the changes we’d like to see, and the painted image of Mahatma Ghandi at the center of the garden reminded us that he said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

Last Day!

Today was the final day of our stay in Asheville, NC, and our second day with the Western North Carolina Alliance (WNCA). The French Broad River is the body of water that is most affected by the coal ash pollution, and is also most cared about by the local community, as it is used for various aspects of recreation like swimming, fishing, boating and canoeing. Today we got to experience this by canoeing on the river. We set sail in the morning, headed towards the Little River Campsite, one of many campsites along the river. This ride was not just for our leisure, it was to carry a large amount of supplies over to the campsite which otherwise would have had to be carried there along a hike. These supplies were given to us by Hartwell Carson, the Riverkeeper from WNCA, and they included loppers, hoes, rakes and other tools that we used to remove Privet, an invasive plant species that had overgrown the campsite.

We spent a long afternoon ripping up these plants from the root in order to free the picnic table and other open spaces that make up this recreational area. This required a great deal of manpower (and in our team’s case, mostly womanpower), and being a large group, we were able to accomplish a lot during the time that we were there. These campsites are an important part of the community. The French Broad River is a greatly appreciated aspect of the community, and the campsites allow “Ashevillians” to use and develop a more intimate connection with the river.

This is why it is so important for coal ash pollution to be regulated better, so that these people do not lose this precious aspect of their lifestyle. This relates to us because the coal ash ponds existing in Northampton County affects us too, and this is a great way to learn about the issue and try to help others who  are more directly being affected by it.

Even just canoeing along the river for a short time today, I developed an appreciation for the river just because of it’s beauty as part of nature. It was saddening to think about the amount of toxic pollution that was seeping into and being discharged into it everyday, possibly destroying the ecosystem, as well as limiting its potential for recreational use. This was good inspiration for realizing that the cause we are fighting for with this movement beyond coal has a wide array of benefits concerning not only human health, but also conservation of natural areas.

After we finished our work at the campsite, we hopped back in the canoes and brought them further down the river where we could be picked up along the road by Hartwell. We ran into some difficulties removing the canoes from the river along the steep river banks, which forced us to use some physically intense teamwork that I believe ultimately brought the team closer, increasing our trust with each other.

Today was a definitely a fun way to finish up our service work in Asheville. I wish we had a few more days to stay, since we are coming closer as a group  and becoming more attached to the topic of our trip: environmental justice.

Day 1 with the Western NC Alliance

Today we learned specifically about the coal ash problem and several methods for engaging the public, such as canvassing. In the morning, Rachel told us about the history of the Western North Carolina Alliance (WNCA), which was founded 30 years ago. Next, we were given information about how coal ash affects the environment and human health, and we went through a workshop on how to make our voices hear, specifically by writing letters to the editor and to our local PA representative, Rep. Cartwright. Pennsylvania is actually one of the largest coal ash producers, and there are 3 coal ash ponds in Norhampton County (where Lafayette College is located). Hopefully we’ll actually mail these letters once we’re back on campus since 10 concerned constituents would make a statement to Rep Cartwright.

After a quick lunch, we started canvassing. We drove and walked around Arden Community (where the Ashville Power Station is located) to educate affected citizens about the potential harm and what can be done to solve it. Specifically, WNCA is working to make sure the EPA requires coal ash ponds like the one in Ashville to be dried, capped, and lined so that toxic pollutants would not percolate through groundwater or be spread by wind. Secondly, we were working to get the EPA to more strictly regulate treated coal ash slurry that is discharged to the French Broad River. Though the discharged water is permitted by the EPA, there aren’t actually and limits on the concentrations of those toxic pollutants in the discharged water. Many people mistakenly interpreted our mission as trying to shut down the coal plant and/or all coal plants, and they were frustrated about where energy would come from if not from coal. In reality, our goal was to make the plant more responsible for their impacts on the environment, just as any other industry (landfills, wastewater treatment, etc.) does.

After spreading literature, we took a quick break and returned to the WNCA to start phone banking. We would be calling up the Arden Community members who received flyers to make a more personal connection because studies show that making a these connections leads to better community involvement. Most of the group was nervous about calling up strangers about an issue we were still learning about, but as Sandra Diaz (one of the WNCA coordinator) said, we were practically experts on the issue compared to the general public.

Most people did not pick up the phone, but there were a few outliers. I personally got both ends of the spectrum. After mentioning some facts about the toxic pollutants that could be contaminating the groundwater and surface water, one person said that he didn’t care what the power plant did so long as he still had power. Another person I contacted was on the other end of the spectrum; he thanked me for my efforts and encouraged me to continue, saying that he was confused as to why the industry had been regulated so little for so long a time period.

Compared to GO, WNCA took a more factual approach to gaining community involvement, which our ASB group responded to with a mixed approach. Some people thought that Dwayne, Marilyn, and Anthony’s deeply personal and emotional approach to activism was more effective, but through phone calls and literature drops, we also found that some people were more passionate about concrete facts. We decided that a mixed approach is ultimately the most effective route for reaching our goals and talked about how to have such an approach in our reorientation project.

Last day with GO!

Today was our second day of service and we continued our work with Green Opportunities and the inspiring DeWayne Barton. We started out the morning with DeWayne explaining his reasons for starting the organization and how after hearing neighborhood kids shooting guns near his house, he knew he had to create real change. He decided the only way to create that change was through the help of the community and  working through grassroots movements. After unveiling more of DeWayne’s very complex and mysterious character our team went back to GO headquarters and got a tour of the Reed Community Center.

The Community Center is being built by community workers, using green materials, and is going to be used as a training center for community workers. Following DeWayne back to the Peace Garden, he pulled over to the side of the road and got out of the car to talk to us. He saw a renovated community building that contracted to outside workers instead of employing one of the 22% of unemployed members of the community of Asheville. DeWayne was clearly still outraged that this had occurred and that the town had allowed outsiders to come take jobs that could have been given to members of the community to assist their own community. This outraged man has more passion and loyalty to a community than I have ever seen in my life.

At GO headquarters we also spoke to Anthony, a GO employee and leader who helped incarcerated individuals get back on their feet and back to work. He spoke to us about the importance of community and the importance of finding people sustainable jobs.

We visited the Pisgah Community Garden and talked to a few members of the GO Training Team (GOTT). They were chasing chickens and planting seeds. Intrigued by working with actual members, myself and a few other members of our team stayed at this garden, while others spent the day back at the Burton Community Peace Garden with DeWayne, creating art and tightening up the space. The rest of us stayed to help the GOTT in the community garden. I chose to shovel dirt for the new crops. The rest of our team that was in the garden went to plant seeds, I shoveled with eight GO members and got to talk to them one-on-one. We joked, and laughed and broke a sweat getting to know each other in the cold weather. I talked to them about their lives, many of them under the age of 24 and already with children. They talked about the importance of making a steady income and how there are certain standards they follow at work like no sagging pants and no using your phone. They also talked about their love and dedication to DeWayne. There was a distinct type of loyalty and appreciation that they all seemed to have for him. DeWayne had even explained that once you joined GO, you were family.

Reconvening at the Peace Garden after a hard days work I got to walk around and see the art my team members created. The garden that once seemed kind of creepy and unwelcoming now seemed like a place to learn and reflect and call home. I was surprised that DeWayne had invited the input of our team members to create entire pieces of art in his garden. It was touching that he had that kind of trust in us. After talking to him about community movements and particularly about his opinions regarding the Iraqi War, I no longer questioned his work, instead embracing his every idea and helping in the Peace Garden as much as I could even in our last half hour there.

Saying goodbye to DeWayne and to GO was difficult. While I am eager to canvas and to work with another grassroots movement in a completely different way, I know that I will never have another experience like the one I had with DeWayne and with Green Opportunities.

Our team had a fantastic reflection and really seemed to have a better sense of resolution after last nights discussion of confusion and conflict. Our team seems to be getting a long a lot better too, bonding well and laughing a lot. I am shocked that it is already half over. I love Sweet Peas Hostile and adore the city of Asheville. While I will be sad to leave this town I have begun to call home, I am also eager to bring back some of these ideas to Lafayette and to Easton. I would love to inspire individuals in Easton to work towards sustainable jobs through the impact of artwork and community works.

Understanding GO

Our second day of service proved to be a whirlwind of activities that kept us constantly moving throughout the day. After breakfast and bundling up for the day (it’s been around 30 degrees out and snowing down here), we headed out for another day of service with DeWayne and Green Opportunities. Around 9 am, we headed back to DeWayne’s peace garden, where he gave us a brief overview of how GO got started. The organization, and the peace garden in particular, was started in response to the number of youth in the community who were dealing drugs on the streets. DeWayne wanted to provide these kids with a more positive job opportunity, so he set out with the process of developing GO to help provide training and job placement for underprivileged community members.

Our knowledge of GO was expanded by a tour of the WC Reid Center, a building with big plans related to GO which is currently under construction. The center was originally a school and later became a community center in the seventies as a result of desegregation. Because of a lack of funding for necessary renovations, there were plans to tear down this center. The combined efforts of GO and the Housing Authority saved the center, which is now being renovated. Once we were fitted with neon green hardhats, we were taken on a tour of the center and filled in on its intended use. GO plans to use this center, slated for completion in June 2014, as its new headquarters. Office space and program training rooms are the key features of this building, which will allow for GO to continue its mission of training community members for green jobs within the community.

As we walked through the center, I personally could envision what the completion of this building would provide for the organization. After hearing about the difficulties that GO has in finding space to train its members, I could understand why they needed this space in order to continue their mission. I felt that I connected with this construction site in a way I had struggled to in DeWayne’s peace garden. This building was a more tangible way for me to understand the goals and future of GO as an organization, while DeWayne’s garden was a more individualized, artistic method of connecting with individuals in the community.

Our tour ended with conversations with GO office staff Anthony, DeWayne, and Marilyn, where we learned about the differences between the various programs GO has to offer. They train members in weatherization of buildings, culinary arts, sustainable gardening/agriculture, and other programs as well. Some of this training comes with nationally recognized certifications, which can be used to find stable jobs for these GO members. We got to meet some of these GO members on our visit to the Pisgah View garden, a second community garden in the area. This space was more focused on vegetable gardening rather than the elaborate sculptures of DeWayne’s peace garden. It was really interesting and enlightening to meet community members undergoing the GO training we’d been learning about, and I really appreciated the chance to see the program in action.

After lunch (which we enjoyed back in DeWayne’s garden), our group split into various projects. Some members continued with spreading mulch throughout the garden, while others worked on creating and/or altering existing sculptures. I was part of the group that returned to the Pisgah View garden, where we assisted in laying down fresh soil for planting, harvesting some of the vegetables, and weeding the existing vegetable beds. As for the group members who stayed at DeWayne’s garden, they met another man named Jonathan Santo who came to visit the garden and played music for the group. He even gave us a CD of his music, which allowed for the other half of the group to experience his work.

Our reflection tonight allowed us to decompress from the multitude of experiences we shared today. To summarize all of the conversations we had would take all the space available on this blog! Overall, though, I feel that we got a better understanding of the community that benefits from GO and the peace garden. By learning about the situations the community faces and how they’re related to environmental sustainability, I feel that we were better able to understand GO’s mission and how they go about accomplishing it. I greatly enjoyed our service today and will be saddened to leave GO, as we are volunteering with another organization for the rest of our time in Asheville. I’m looking forward to the new set of experiences we’ll get to encounter in the next two days of our service.

Working in the Sculpture Garden

When our team first pulled up to the sculpture garden, we were overwhelmed. The garden was a plot of land that was strewn with what looked like piles of random discarded items. There were black tubes draped between bare trees, walkways made of old wooden fences with hanging dollar bills and bordered with fake flowers, pieces of playground material hanging at odd angles, giant black and white portraits of famous figures, and so much more. We were told beforehand that the garden was made up of symbolic sculptures created from recycled materials, however I wasn’t sure what message these giant piles of items were trying to tell me. Despite my confusion, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of wonder as I stepped into the garden.

Our team met with a man named Duwayne, who had designed the garden himself. He explained how the street that the garden was located on was originally filled with drug dealers, and was an overall dangerous place. He felt inspired to create a Peace Garden that highlighted pressing social issues in the United States, such as consumerism and its impact on the environment. He led us through the garden saying very little, having us observe his art and develop our own initial impressions. We walked through a wooden maze, and inside were signs that were labeled with all forms of “FOR SALE!”, and giant piles of old technology, children’s toys, furniture, and random household items. My attention was yanked in every direction, there was so much to see. When we stepped out of the maze, we saw a river formation made out of old plastic slides, and they were filled with empty plastic water bottles that sliced right down the middle of the garden.

Duwayne led us to one of his pieces that caught my attention as soon as we pulled up to the garden. It was a giant, wooden, cross shaped coffin hinged to a tree and teetering at an odd angle. Inside were hundreds of tiny brightly colored toys-everything from alphabet letters, to toy cars, to water guns, to plastic animals. One of the toys even played a children’s song as you stood in front of the sculpture. Among the toys were tiny pieces of mirrors, so as you looked at the piece, you could see pieces of yourself in the reflection. At the heart of the coffin was a dark, rusty cage filled with twigs, bark, hair, and an apple. Duwayne asked us what he thought all of this meant.

It took a while to look at the sculpture and put together the different ideas bouncing in my head, once I got past the overall shock of the giant piece. At first, I wasn’t sure whether the dark spot in the middle represented something evil, or something good that was simply misunderstood. I could hardly look at it when it was surrounded by so many tiny toys, and so many bright colors. Duwayne explained how the sculpture symbolized how there is a way to get to the solution, we just need to work together and focus to get there. The shape of the cross symbolized the idea that consumerism has become a sort of religion, because we are so obsessed with the race of having more that it has become our only source of happiness. All the little toys symbolized the distractions we have for fixing the main problem, the environment. It also highlighted the whole idea of how easy it is to be distracted from the issue that needs to be fixed, when the brightness of all the toys make it difficult to stare into the dark rusty cage at the center. It reminded me of how in ASB, we might feel passionate about the issue while we are on our trip, however we must stay focused on bringing our cause back to campus, where we are so easily distracted by everything else going on in our lives.

The sculpture left our heads ringing with new ideas as we worked on the garden. Some of us spent time layering the ground in mulch, while others planted seeds. Some of us even helped Duwayne assemble another one of his sculptures, which featured Condoleezza Rice in a wedding dress, with a bag full of bloody money and a gun in her hands, hanging from a parachute in a tree with an evil face on the back of her head.

When we arrived back to our hostel, we prepared a delicious buffet of tacos for our Mexican Monday themed night. After dinner, we watched a documentary on the environmental, social, political, and health issues associated with the coal industry. It was interesting to see the controversy associated with the towns in West Virginia that are directly impacted by the coal industry, because although it provides many people jobs, it is also a major source of health and social problems. Just in one town located directly next to a coal mine, six people who were all neighbors drinking from the same well water developed brain tumors, even though brain tumors supposedly only occur in one out of 100,000 people.

After the documentary, our team got together to discuss our impressions of the day. We all agreed that the garden was overwhelming, and many of us had difficulty understanding a lot of the art. Although the art may be confusing to some, I felt as though it left a lasting impression of the issue at hand. Even if one does not understand the details of each component of the structure, the initial emotions that come from seeing the garden art are symbolic of the issue. The problems associated with the environment are overwhelming, and in some ways scary, just like the garden was at first site. However by working together as a community, one of the central themes behind the garden, we can work towards a solution. Using art in the community to spread an idea is a great way to appeal to different kinds of people, and to have them actually interact with the information. A flyer with statistics might be shocking for one second, but it may not last in your mind. The art in the garden really spoke to me, and I am looking forward to working there again tomorrow and learning about Duwayne’s other pieces.

Fabulous Start

Starting our service today was more incredible than any of us could have imagined. We knew about GO! from their website but our community partner Marilyn Bass blew our minds with information, stories, and progress that Green Opportunities (GO!) has achieved in the low-income communities in Asheville. I will leave our blogger for the day to describe more about our activities, the Peace Garden, and what we learned about Environmental Justice in Asheville thus far.
What I really wanted to talk about was our reflection session last night. It began with a team builder called “Who am I?” led by Camila and Julia. We all had people or character’s names taped to our foreheads and went around asking the group about our person trying to guess who we were. It was our first game-type activity on the trip that really resonated a feeling of bonded fun among the members. We followed with Zsck and Anh’s reflection activity – a personal journaling time and sharing circle. This allowed us to reflect on our expectations for our trip, set some personal goals, think about our first impressions of Asheville, and then combine all of our thoughts together as we shared. I really enjoyed the actively engaged conversation that began about the role of service in the Environmental Justice movement, about social inequity, and the touches of what I am sure will turn into discussions about multicultural competency. Many of us were eager to see how downtown Asheville differed from the outer-parts of the city. We have questions about demographics of the county and how the wealth is distributed. Our adventures around the peace garden today taught us a lot about these topics; I cannot wait to learn more!
That’s the tid bit I wanted to share for now. Thank you for reading.

Pre-trip

Well, not really since I’m already here in North Carolina but I want to jot down some of my pre-trip thoughts nevertheless.

I’m not entirely sure what concrete changes we can make to the issue of environmental injustice in North Carolina, but I’m definitely excited to finally get some hands-on experience with local community and organizations. I’m also looking forward to gain a deeper understanding of how community service is done here in the US, and of course to get to know all my teammates better.

Eggcited! ;)

Day 2: Cultural Day!

Today was the actual first day of our trip, after our long journey yesterday. I was the coordinator for today’s activities and it was very exciting to get started this morning.

We slept in until about 10 a.m., which I planned for, because I assumed that people would be tired from yesterday. After a nice community breakfast of eggs and toast we went out to  the Asheville Urban Trail, and explored the city. It was very cold, rainy, and windy, so we tried to go inside as much as possible, but we got to see a lot of the historic buildings from the “Gilded Age.” After walking and driving through most of downtown, we came home and had lunch together before heading out to the Botanical Gardens. Fortunately it stopped raining, and we got to enjoy the beginnings of Spring, as the periwinkle was beginning to bloom. The gardens were a wonderful way for our group to get outside, experience some nature, and get to know each other.

After the gardens we came back into Asheville, where we visited the Woolworth Walk. The Woolworth Walk is home to artist booths, where they rent out the space. This was a very great way to really get a feel for the people of Asheville. The art was very unique, and modern. We got to speak with one of the artists, who uses beeswax to paint, and she was very friendly. I hope this is simply a preview of the rest of the Asheville community and their Southern friendliness!

After the Woolworth Walk, there was free time until dinner! We took this as a further opportunity to explore our surroundings, and check out the local shops. We went out to dinner at the Lexington Avenue Brewery, which is right underneath our hostel. It was very cute, and homey and the food had this great rustic taste. Everyone had a lovely dinner, and it was great to be out and about in the city.

After dinner we returned to our hostel, and we had our first reflection meeting. This was a time for us all to share how we hope the trip goes, and what our first impressions of Asheville are. Everyone is very excited to see the difference between this part of the city, and the disadvantaged part where the pollution of our concern is occurring. Generally we had a great first day of bonding and exposure to the city, and we’re really excited to get started with our work tomorrow!

Pre-Trip Post

We have arrived! After an incredibly long car ride and numerous meeting talking about and planning our trip, it is finally time to put those plans into action.

I am excited to help Green Opportunities and River Alliance in their efforts to end environmental injustice. We will be assisting these groups in anyway possible. I am looking forward to work with different areas of the larger issue of “environmental injustice” through water sampling and canvassing. Also after researching the town of Asheville and the issue with our team, I am particularly excited to work with individuals who have a passion and a dedication to conquer social injustice.

It is exciting to be apart of a grassroots movement to create change in a tangible way. I can not wait to get started and to bring what I learn back to Lafayette with me. Hopefully the change we install here can inspire us to create change back on Lafayette’s campus! Who knows, huh?

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