Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Taking the path of peace, justice, and sustainability

For one Millennial Midwesterner, volunteer projects on the East Coast provide an education in community living and activism.

By Jon Overton

HARRISONBURG, Va.  Young adults are often given a rather tall order that demands they figure out exactly what they want to do with the rest of their lives shortly after graduating from high school. Many of us go to college and just pick something that doesn’t sound terrible, some just work until they figure it out, some join the military, but another valuable and often overlooked option includes volunteering.

That option has more or less worked out for Minnesota native, Michael Himlie, who began attending McPherson College in McPherson, Kan. in 2012, but later began working with a disaster relief program to help victims of Hurricane Sandy through the Church of the Brethren Volunteer Service.

“Seeing the recent flooding in Minnesota in 2007 that affected a lot of nearby towns and to just see the destruction of natural disasters, I really felt the need to learn more about what natural disasters can cause and actually do something to help families who are struck by natural disasters,” Himlie said. 

After spending several months with Brethren Disaster Ministries in the Northeast, Himlie is now working with the New Community Project in Harrisonburg, Va. The organization is committed to promoting nonviolence and sustainable living. In fact, when I called Himlie for this story, he was building a fridge that uses cold air from the ground to keep its contents cool, no electricity required.

The New Community Project also maintains a number of organic gardens. Volunteers eat some of the produce and the rest is sold to local co-ops and restaurants to help cover organizational expenses.

“We strive to live and work off of the land that we are provided and do that in a way that we give back to the land what the land gives to us by collecting compost, using rainwater off of the roof to collect in cisterns, using bicycles rather than vehicles that would be run by gas or oil,” Himlie explained.

Community outreach is another major part of the New Community Project’s mission, which includes coordinating with support groups, engaging the local Latino community (which makes up about 9 percent of Harrisonburg’s population), and teaching locals about ways to live sustainably.

Himlie said volunteers at the New Community Project works on his or her own personal project for the local community. When I spoke with him, he was developing a curriculum for youth groups that are volunteering with the New Community Project this summer. Himlie was also planning an ultimate frisbee tournament for the town of Harrisonburg.

Ultimately, Himlie hopes to gain leadership experience and continue learning about peace and social justice through more volunteer work, activism, and/or going to a college or university with a peace studies program.

“I can see that people are wanting change ... and I think that there are ways that we can train leaders and followers, both of which can be within the same person to see progress in the direction that we are looking for.”

Jon Overton is the Media Editor of Iowa Peace Network and an undergraduate at the University of Iowa studying Ethics & Public Policy and Sociology. He also writes for The Daily Iowan.

No comments:

Post a Comment