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All Corps Day: Housing Issues & Environmental Justice

By: Dita Amtey

On four separate days out of a ten month service, Conservation Corps Minnesota puts together special community service days formally referred to as All Corps Days. These days are meant to introduce corps members of different programs to one another while learning about the environmental issues facing the Twin Cities. The first All Corps Day took place on April 1 and focused on housing issues and environmental justice. Though issues of housing and environmental justice are found in almost every community, many corps members were unfamiliar with the concepts or with real life examples.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, environmental justice is defined as:

“…the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”

Environmental justice can only be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn and work.

Corps members first learned about environmental justice and housing issues in the Twin Cities from speakers of Wilder Research  and Aurora St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation . Wilder Research aims to give a voice to the disadvantaged and misunderstood through human services research. Every three years Wilder Research conducts a statewide survey  of people who are homeless or living in temporary housing programs. This research includes counts, estimates, and face-to-face interviews with Minnesota’s homeless in an effort to better understand the cause and circumstances of homelessness. Aurora St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation works to foster positive relationships within and between neighborhoods, and to support its community members in effecting their choices relative to the quality of life in their neighborhoods.

In the afternoon, corps members teamed up with Rebuilding Together Twin Cities to complete a rain barrel project. The project required a team of three to build and decorate a rain barrel. By simply drilling a hole on top of the barrel, attaching a faucet at the bottom, and creating an opening for overflow to exit, the crew prepared and painted 13 barrels for low-income families. Rain barrel recipients can collect rainwater and use it to water their gardens or wash a car. During the process, crew members got a chance to show off some creativity by painting barrels with themes ranging from original works of art to representations of Dr. Seuss’s “The Lorax”.

The power of these service projects is not limited to the physical work being done, like making these rain barrels, but the increased knowledge each member gains about the issue and what we choose to do with that knowledge. Now I know how to make a rain barrel for my own yard and can write about my experience so others can hear about it.

The next All Corps Day will be on May 6 and will focus on schoolyard and community gardening. Can’t wait!