Posted: December 12, 2006
Mount Holyoke College's Giovanna Di Chiro, visiting professor in the Earth and Environment Department, is coinvestigator on an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) environmental health grant working in partnership with the nationally recognized, Holyoke-based community organization Nuestras Raíces ("our roots"). This College-community collaboration was one of 16 such partnerships selected from a national competition to share $2.7 million in EPA grants to solve local health and environmental issues.
Students in Di Chiro's environmental studies seminar Environmental Justice: Theory and Practice are actively involved with the grant and will be presenting their work at a community meeting at Nuestras Raíces' office, 329 Main Street, on Wednesday, December 13, at 2 pm.
The EPA grants are part of an innovative community-focused initiative called CARE (Community Action for a Renewed Environment), a program now in its second year that is designed to help communities address a wide variety of environmental health issues in both rural and urban areas. Another Massachusetts organization, the Boston Public Health Commission's SAFE Shops program, was also selected as a national CARE grant recipient.
Mount Holyoke's Di Chiro and Nuestras Raíces' organizing directors William Aponte and Hilda Colón received a Massachusetts Level I grant, a cooperative agreement intended to help establish community-based partnerships dedicated to reducing toxic emissions in local environments. Di Chiro, Aponte, and Colón are working to expand existing partnerships in the region to create the Pioneer Valley Community Environmental Health Network and to complete a community-based environmental health assessment and monitoring program to better understand the cumulative toxic risks facing communities in Holyoke and Springfield, the two EPA-designated "environmental justice communities" in the Pioneer Valley (communities with high rates of poverty, unemployment, and low-income populations that are burdened with large numbers of polluting or hazardous facilities such as coal-fired power-generating plants, industrial plants, diesel truck routes, etc.).
"We are very excited to have received this grant from the EPA," Aponte said. "And we are honored to have such a committed academic partner as Giovanna Di Chiro, who has helped us for many years with her concern for the people in Holyoke, her scientific expertise, and the community maps and environmental research that her students at Mount Holyoke have done for us. We look forward to collaborating with the many organizations, government agencies, and academic partners and students in the Pioneer Valley who have shown their commitment to working with us to improve the health of our community and to help create sustainable and environmentally sound economic development in Holyoke and in the region."
More than 30 youth and adult leaders will be trained to conduct risk mapping of local environmental and public health hazards and will join together with local and regional partners to conduct community-based environmental monitoring of the air, water, and land where local residents live, work, and attend school. As part of the first phase of the EPA CARE grant, students from Di Chiro's seminar are designing a Pioneer Valley Community Resources Map (with the assistance of Eugenio Marcano, the College's new GeoProcessing Lab manager) to identify and assess the conditions necessary for building a multi-stakeholder coalition in the Pioneer Valley to improve the environmental health of local communities and to generate solutions for sustainable development in the region. The students will present their GIS map of regional environmental health resources and its accompanying resources directory handbook at a community meeting at 2 pm on December 13 at Nuestras Raíces' office in Holyoke.
"Most case studies we read about in class speak of all the environmental injustices and the disproportionate burden some communities bear; but with this community-based learning project, we've worked to map the allies, or rather the environmental justice, in our local region," said Sarah Levison '07, who is taking Di Chiro's class. "It reminds me--as a young activist--that there are many avenues for collaboration and for hope. The opportunity to work with Nuestras Raíces and Professor Di Chiro through the EPA CARE grant and to start the ball rolling to build an environmental health coalition is the best kind of experience I could ask for. My classmates and I got to practice interviewing, to learn mapping techniques, to sort through oral and written texts, and to make a cohesive network out of the pieces that serve an entire community--us included."
Di Chiro's seminar is part of Mount Holyoke's Community-Based Learning (CBL) program, an educational initiative that links Mount Holyoke College students with local communities in courses that combine analysis and action. CBL enhances students' understanding of public concern and fosters their leadership, citizenship, and advocacy skills. It brings together students, faculty, and community organizations to work on projects that provide intellectually rich experiences for students and tangible benefits to the community.
CBL Students' Efforts Featured on abc40(QuickTime Video