By Amanda Bancroft
Imagine the possibilities for summer vacation through the eyes of a student — a whole two months for travel, swimming, fun and relaxation. Or, getting a summer job, even though it might be a dead-end job. But, instead of flipping burgers to earn extra cash, a group of Northwest Arkansas students are making a different choice. Calling themselves “solutionaries,” these students are involved in the Summer of Solutions program and have joined 12 other SoS cities across the country to create green jobs.
The Fayetteville SoS team joins teams from cities such as Asheville, N.C.; Austin, Texas; Cleveland, Ohio; Corvallis, Ore.; Dallas; Detroit; Harrisburg, Penn.; and Iowa City, Iowa, to come up with green solutions for their individual area.
In these SoS cities, youth around the country come together as solutionaries to innovate solutions to the problems facing our communities.
SoS (www.summerofsolutions.org) was created in 2008 by Grand Aspirations and is based in Twin Cities, Minn. The nonprofit organization was founded by students. Grand Aspirations’ mission is to empower, connect and support youth leaders as they create innovative, self-sustaining and interdependent initiatives that systemically integrate climate and energy solutions, economic security and social justice.
Exciting projects are happening all around the country in conjunction with SoS. In Worcester, Mass., youth have “barn-raisings” to weatherize homes.
The Twin Cities team has created a clean energy revolving fund called “Cooperative Energy Futures” and has been working with the city since 2008 to convert a Ford manufacturing plant into a green industry and housing site.
In Burlington, Vt., SoS participants started a pellet manufacturing plant for pellet stoves and are teaching green engineering to high school students.
In its first year in Fayetteville, the SoS team is focusing on sustainable agriculture. Sponsored by the OMNI Center for Peace, Justice and Ecology, Fayetteville’s SoS is run by OMNI’s Teen Leadership Corps or TLC, a program for youth interested in nonprofit management and global issues.
Andrea Love, 18, is one of the Fayetteville SoS participants. She says she’s part of SoS “because I don’t think it’s fair that people feel it’s necessary to choose between poisoning their families with cheap food or starving because healthy food is expensive and not convenient.”
One of the Fayetteville team’s projects is “Bamboo Beds.” The beds were built to utilize natural bamboo in raised garden beds. You can view these beds and sample herbs from these gardens at the Fayetteville Public Library, which sponsored the project.
Another of the local projects is “Know Your Farmer,” which was created to help raise awareness about local farm families and the importance of buying local.
Other projects are “Mobile Marketplace” that brings local, organic food and fair trade products to the consumer and “Recycled Rain Barrels” that makes use of recycled materials to build affordable rain barrels for gardens.
Another project is a stop-motion video (view it at www.youtube.com by searching for Summer of Solutions Fayetteville). In the production, creative characters express the value of buying local.
To fund the SoS-Fayetteville program, a micro-loan investment system is being developed. Green businesses, churches, nonprofit groups and individuals can invest in a student whose green job matches their mission or interests.
To qualify for a loan, students must attend a weeklong training session to learn skills such as social entrepreneurism, which includes making a solid timeline with measurable goals, planning ahead for potential challenges and working with an adult mentor.
Once a student’s green job is created and income is available, the student pays back the loan, which helps fund another student’s dream of having a green job.
To help raise funds for SoS, there will be “A Change in Seasons” fundraiser at 6 p.m. Thursday, July 29 at the OMNI Center, 3274 N. Lee Ave. in Fayetteville. There will be an art auction, music and food. SoS is currently seeking donations of food-related art from local artists. Anyone interested can call Jeanie Hall at 595-9134.
Solutionaries from SoS cities around the country are coming to Fayetteville, Aug. 14-18 to share information about their projects and learn about the sustainability initiatives created by the Fayetteville SoS team. About 30-50 solutionaries to expected to come to Fayetteville and join in discussions and complete service projects with Fayetteville organizations.
There are still SoS youth who need support. If you are interested in helping, contact Amanda Bancroft at 799-9909. Information on Fayetteville’s SoS can be found at www.bit.ly/sos-fay.
Amanda Bancroft is an AmeriCorps*VISTA worker who is currently serving her first year at the OMNI Center for Peace, Justice and Ecology. She is looking forward to serving a second year at OMNI.