This post is by Kate Johnson of the Sustainable Art project.
This summer must have big plans for something fun in the fall, because it sure is in a hurry to get there! It has been a whirlwind of a few months here at Summer of Solutions in Iowa City, and we’ve been making the most of it in the ‘Sustainable Art’ group under the direction of Nick Gerken. Though we have been sparsely populated, we’ve had some great assistance from our friends in ‘Our Power’ and ‘Iowa City Roots’. With whoever we could grab, we have traveled to camps all summer, working on crafts with kids and talking to them about the environment.
These camps include Taproot, Pheasant Ridge, and two Wildlife camps (Hawk and Fox). At Pheasant Ridge, we had the same group of kids that all live in the same neighborhood every Wednesday. We did many projects with them and got to spend a lot of time with them. Some of our crafts included weaving mats, pinwheels, and birdhouses. We really enjoyed our time there, which we wrapped up July 31 by going to a nearby park after making parachute toys with plastic bags. It brings a smile to my face when I think of some of the things our Pheasant Ridge kids talked to us about, even though we sometimes struggled to keep them on task.
One of our other camps was Taproot, and it was my personal favorite. They bring a very laid-back approach to their time around the kids. It was a different group each week, so we could do repeat projects. We started the days by talking about the three R’s (reduce, reuse, and recycle) and the kids proved themselves to be quite knowledgeable! For the majority of our time there, we made notebooks out of old books and recycled paper. They impressed me with how well they turned out, and some of the kids had some great plans for what they were going to use their notebooks for. Not to mention their plans for how the world should be run! They were very insightful and fun to listen to every week. Besides for the notebooks, we spent the end of our time there making paper and they got to find leaves and flowers to press into it. It turned out really well and we had fun designs and shapes of paper as our final product! Among our ending results were a Pac Man and a ghost paper to go with it.
Our other camps, Fox and Hawk, generally had a pretty large turnout. We spent our time there on Tuesdays and Thursdays making notebooks with one exception. For one day we had an older group that were probably going into 6th grade. We made kites out of sticks and newspaper on one of the few rainy days we had. Although it wasn’t really a great day for kites, we were successful in the creation and the kids got to take them home to use on a nicer day. Overall, these camps went really well and we had some great help from the counselors there. We also occasionally brought some backup from our other groups.
The camps were all a blast, and I really realized how much fun the kiddos can be! Outside of our time with them, we were usually out scavenging around at a recycling center for some materials or looking around at secondhand shops for what we needed. We came across some interesting reading material during our searches for notebook covers, which we were constantly on the lookout for. My personal favorite was a stack of children’s book in Korean, which were hugely instrumental for a month of notebooks. The highlight of those may have been when we found a young girl at a camp who informed us she could read them or maybe when we framed pages of them and sold them at the Trivia Night we held at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Iowa City.
We certainly had some great adventures in ‘Sustainable Art’ and I am despondent when I think that the program will likely not return for next summer. However, we are making sure it goes out with a bang. As we wrap up the summer at camps, we still have work to do! We will be tagging along with the other groups and we still have our window painting project to work on. All in all we have experienced a lot of success this summer getting through to children about how they can help out and I think they are going to turn out to be some really great people that just might save the world!
This post is by Eli Shepherd, the program leader of Our Power.
Iowa City is a pretty fantastic place to live. Good people, healthy food, strong local economy- I certainly don’t have a whole lot to complain about. Folks are generally well educated in both traditional topics and those otherwise and awareness of social and environmental justice issues like climate change and food insecurity is high.
It is a combination of these reasons and the fact that I was born and raised an Iowa Citian that makes me relatively comfortable going door to door in the community, among other things. I went door to door during the 2012 presidential campaign and, although I’m hardly a fan of political solicitation, I was comfortable enough to go it alone for a few days. Talking to people, old friends or new, is always a treat. Or almost always.
Toward the end of my first summer with Iowa City Summer of Solutions, Iowa City’s branch of Grand Aspirations’ Summer of Solutions program, I tagged along with my solutionary comrade Zach Gruenhagen for a day of canvassing with Our Power, the community energy efficiency initiative that he brought with him from Minneapolis. Something about carrying a message of helping- helping folks to save money on energy bills, to take charge of what should be Our Power- just felt, and feels, good. It still feels good even if some folks reduce your presence to “I don’t want any magazines, I’m just not interested, thank you!”
Well what Zach got me started on then I’m still doing today. Just this evening, in fact, I was out in Iowa City’s Broadway neighborhood, learning where people are at with energy efficiency, learning that a certain elementary-age girl wants braces but her teeth “wasn’t crooked,” or that complementing a hanging potted tomato plant can bring a smile to the face of just about anyone.
The Broadway neighborhood has gotten a bad rap for several things. There have been some shootings, neighborhood tension has arisen, stereotypes and generalizations have proliferated. Despite knowing that, despite the unfortunate occurrences, much of the hype is just that, hype, and also despite our policy of always canvassing in teams, I still was a bit nervous at a few doors. It wasn’t even unspoken tension, my wonderful canvassing partner for the evening Laura and I tried to figure out why we couldn’t completely shake the unease to little avail. Shortly thereafter, however, we ran into the aforementioned girl, her brother, and their little cousin, the two boys dressed identically. Human interaction really does work wonders, kids more so than their taller and (usually) more mature adult counterparts. We did not accomplish much more canvassing beyond that point in the evening, deciding witnessing the outfit twins’ Michael Jackson dance was more valuable for the time being, but unease was certainly no longer on our minds.
No matter how much canvassing we do it always seems to be just the beginning. There are always new people to meet and more work that needs doing. More parts per million of CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere. More people without control over the things they rely on every day, namely for us, energy. We say we’re trying to help people save money on their energy bills but what we should say is we’re trying to help people take back the power. That said, I’ll leave the power to dress the little brother and cousin up to that girl’s aunt- she’s doing the right thing, or at least the adorable thing, with her power.
This post is by Kira Stoller of the Our Power project.
The Our Power project has had a lot going on recently. Throughout our canvassing most people have been more than willing to listen to us talk about our project and some have even invited us into their homes to escape the heat. We have come across a number of residents- both renters and homeowners- who have expressed an interest in making their homes more energy efficient. Thanks to a donation from the University of Iowa we have been able to offer these individuals free low flow shower heads. Thus far, two homes in the Northside neighborhood have signed up for our weatherization and a few others indicated that they want MidAmerican to conduct a free energy audit of their property.
One of our main goals for the summer has been to find a way to solve the split incentive between landlords and tenants in making Iowa City rental properties more energy efficient. As it is, only one of the two parties is typically motivated to make energy improvements- the one receiving a financial benefit from doing so. In an effort to solve this problem we held two public forums in the hopes of gaining input from various community members on the matter. Planning these forums was made a lot easier with the help of consultant Sheila Samuelson of area landlords about our forums and assisted in publicizing the events.
Our first public forum took place on last Monday evening and despite the low turnout we had a productive discussion. Having Iowa City’s senior rental housing inspector and a representative from MidAmerican in attendance provided us with some unique viewpoints. There was a general agreement that part of the reason the issue may be difficult to resolve is on account of the fact that energy efficiency is not typically one of the things that people weight heavily when debating where they want to rent.
Two of our group members were interviewed about the event and were featured on the evening news.
We saw an increase in attendance at our second forum and once again had some great conversation about the issue. A lot of emphasis was placed on the importance of education during this session. It was determined that it might be beneficial to highlight the amount of money that could be saved through practices such as home weatherizations in a more quantifiable manner such as “washing clothes in cold water and hanging them to dry would enable one to purchase 10 additional pizzas annually.”
Based on the discussions at the forums we plan to formulate a list of recommendations that can be presented to the city council sometime next month. Sheila will once again be helping us with this task. We hope to convince the council that small changes could have a major impact overtime.
This post is by Will Perry of the Sustainable Art project.
After a week long orientation with our group leaders Nick Gerken, Eli Shepherd, and Kate Anstreicher, we split up into subgroups run by each leader geared toward specific causes. Eli is in charge of ‘Our Power,’ which is an energy efficiency initiative with a focus on addressing the split incentive issue in regards to making energy improvements in rental properties in Iowa City. Kate leads ‘Iowa City Roots,’ which is a community gardening force working with the Iowa City landfill to implement a composting collection service for downtown businesses. Then there is ‘Sustainable Art,’ the program that I am in. Nick heads this subgroup and our weekly activities for a range of summer camps with the goal of educating about waste and waste management through hands on activities and recycled artwork. Our group of about four people just recently came up with an idea we are very excited about: downtown window painting.
The main idea behind the window painting idea is to involve most of the local merchants in downtown Iowa City allowing for one or two of their windows to be used. Any child’s parent in the greater Johnson County area would be able to rent out a window that would be reserved for their child to paint. The main takeaway from the initiative is that the $5 or $10 required to reserve a window for a child would be donated in whole to one of four local charities or causes in the area of the renter’s choice. It’s building community spirit in more ways that one.
Between 11am-4pm on the day of the event (still TBD), the child would go to their window and, after buying a couple colors of paint from one of the on-site paint stands, they would paint about a particular theme (also TBD). The paint stands will sell acrylic paint from either Blick or Menards, who will provide the paint at a discount and co-sponsor the event. The paintings will remain up around town for a whole 4-5 days after the event to add a festive touch to the Iowa City setting and allow the kids to see their own artwork as well as their friends’.
We are hoping this will potentially catch on to become a tradition in Iowa City, and we will certainly provide more updates as soon as more is known!