Over the years, I find myself more and more interested in stewardship and learning to protect our environment. Of course, I have been an active hiker, biker and camper for most of my life, but I didn’t care much about actively advocating on environmental issues until I moved to a city and realized that it desperately needed volunteers.
I became a resident of Cleveland in 2007, and within months of living here, I wanted to do something about all the *piles* I discovered lying along the side of the road. I began to haul or rescue all the debris I found, and later, I decided to teach kids how to re-purpose *things*.
Sometimes I would take paint or batches of seconds from Home Depot and splash it onto hubcaps, cardboard, or music CDs. My energetic artists seemed to enjoy it, and best of all, they knew they were doing something useful.
After those workshops, I came up with a tagline which became a hook for me. I called the idea “Create. Inspire. Revitalize.” These days, I am using the same idea for recycling and composting the shell waste from Lake Erie to grow plants.
I wanted to see if the fifth and sixth graders at Near West Intergenerational School could take the idea one step further. So on the last week of class in May, I brought in an old piece of plywood that had those words emblazoned across it.
I leaned the board against the chalkboard so the kids could see it. I began speaking about what the words meant, and within minutes of the conversation, a small hand shot up like wildfire.
“Yes?” I asked.
The young girl pointed to the board.
“Can I have that?”
I smiled and told her that maybe we could recycle our own board. But her smile told me that simple ideas work, and they can often make a strong impression.
I was able to use that sign as a springboard, and in this instance, I asked them what they had learned over the previous weeks of composting and repurposing shells. Using my best impression of Dr. David Cooperrider, one of my professors at Case Western Reserve University, I gave the kids a pack of sticky notes and asked them to look at that board for another minute or two.
I said, “When you look at that board, I want you to apply that statement to you. So knowing what you’ve learned over the last several weeks, how will you create, inspire and revitalize?”
I asked them to write down their thoughts on sticky notes and place their ideas next to the sign. I would come back on the last day of school to collect them.
I watched them think hard about it. Many of them jumped right up and posted several thoughts on the board, including:
Grow big crops to solve world hunger.
Keep water clean.
Reuse. Don’t throw recyclable things away.
Promote ideas through kid’s clubs and advertisements.
It is important to keep the whole world healthy, including the lakes.
When you see someone recycling, reuse it to make something cool.
Plant more trees.
No littering. Don’t throw trash on plants or on the ground.
This is the concept of Appreciative Inquiry (AI). It’s all about brainstorming, and there are no bad ideas. AI is intended to plant the seed that can help generate bigger ideas. And over here in Ohio City, those seeds are becoming solutions that lead to much better *things*.