“Columbia Secondary School’s Green Team believes fully in the mission of our school which is to prepare students with strong academics to be global citizens who care about the earth’s sustainability and global issues.”
Story contributed by Lynn Tiede, Columbia Secondary School, New York, NY
In 2020, before the COVID pandemic began, I had reached out to Norma and Edmundo Flores who run Anne Mary’s thrift store in East Harlem, NYC about hosting a community building project developed by myself with my Green Team students. My students were creating crafts from recycled and upcycled materials and wanted to raise money to help build water and sanitation systems through a non-profit called H2O for Life. The project was one of many initiatives my Green Team engages in to learn about sustainability, nature, climate change, the circular economy, and the interconnectedness between environmental and social issues. We needed a good location to educate people about our project and make the sales off campus due to the fundraising requirements of our school. Excitement built as we planned for a Mother’s Day, May event. Then suddenly everything changed due to COVID. Schools and stores in NYC closed and my green team’s crafting was stalled because we were now meeting virtually.
When school resumed in fall of 2021 and NYC slowly began to open, my students asked once again about the project and wholeheartedly decided they would do whatever they could to raise money on their own at home for a chosen partner project to bring water to the Navajo Nation. I told students we would wait and see how things developed during the year with Covid, but I assured them I still had the crafts and if it was deemed safe and allowable by our principal, we would find a way to have the sale this year. Once March arrived and vaccines began rolling out and in person schooling began, my principal was thrilled to hear about this social event which she knew would be meaningful after the one year delay. I reached out to Norma and Edmundo again, and we planned for May 1, 2021.
The day arrived with beautiful weather and it was off to a great start when I found parking right next to Anne Mary’s Place (a feat in NYC!). Only four students were able to come due to parental concerns and social distancing requirements, but we set up our display outside the store. Grapevine wreaths, potholders (by a now graduate of our school, Ella Mare of Sisters4Water) and pretty muslim bags (by Nina Venter) all made by my Green Team students were on display. We began handing out flyers to passerby’s, explaining that if they made a donation, they could take one of the crafts. The weather was beautiful and the generosity and kindness of East Harlem residents kept coming in waves. Many people made donations and didn’t even want a craft but then grabbed their friends and others on the street to encourage them to contribute. Others were thrilled to have a unique mother’s day gift, and many stopped to talk and ask us about our efforts—even someone who said they had family living in the Navajo Nation. We were so happy to finally be in person together fulfilling the vision we had initiated the year before—all while helping people, the planet, and H2O for Life’s mission. After five hours, the day’s effort had completely exceeded our fundraising goal. The joy of giving to help others and care for the planet was nourishing to all on so many levels.