Fire Souls are community members with a strong interest in sustainable development and community change who are willing and able to work hard to implement their ideas.
Jan Pilarski (R), Founder, Green Bridge Growers
Jan Pilarski founded Green Bridge Growers as a community-based social enterprise that provides creative business solutions to important issues of our times: it links sustainably grown, locally sourced food production with employment for young adults with autism. In recognition of their efforts, Green Bridge Growers won the 2012 Greatest Social Impact Award at Notre Dame’s Gigot Center for Entrepreneurship.
For Jan, the personal and professional came together in an inspiring way. Growing up in Milwaukee, she learned from her family to love gardening. As Director of Justice Education she focused on food justice and started a Unity Garden at St. Mary’s. When her son Chris graduated from college with a degree in environmental studies and chemistry and couldn’t find a suitable job—90% of young adults with autism are unemployed across the country--all the threads of her life came together and Green Bridge Growers was born.
Jan studied Will Allen’s Growing Power aquaponics greenhouses in Milwaukee where fish and veggies grow together in an ecosystem where nothing goes to waste. Together with Chris and a group from Hannah and Friends, Jan built a 350 square foot greenhouse on their site that serves as prototype for their commercial aquaponic greenhouses.
Working as a Fellow with the Center for a Sustainable Future, Jan is focusing the energy of Green Bridge Growers into creating an herb garden in the walkway between the Doubletree Hotel and Century Center. The goal is to have it provide year-round sustainably grown produce to sell to local restaurants. It, too, is tended and administered by young adults with autism.
Green Bridge Growers already produces 1,000 pounds of greens a year, and Whole Foods as well as local restaurants are purchasing its basil. Currently 8 young people with autism do the farming. To help GBG workers succeed, Green Bridge Growers has developed written and visual aids that teach employees each step of the skills needed to run the greenhouses. “The more we can build and grow, the more young adults we can employ,” explains Pilarksi. “The need is enormous since resources for them dwindle as soon as they reach adulthood. The heart of our venture is to contribute to our community by bringing jobs and hope to these very capable young people."
Doug Way, Vice President and Manager of Administrative Services, 1st Source Bank
Shortly after joining 1st Source Bank 19 years ago, Doug Way began to look for ways to make the organization more sustainable. His first initiative was to head a team looking for a better way to dispose of the mountains of confidential paper the offices produced. They discovered a company in Toledo that mixes paper with chemicals to make a pulp which then is sold to a paper factory. Every office has a “basket buddy” attached to the trash where all non-paper items are collected, contents of the main waste basket goes to Toledo. This solution worked well in the main office buildings. The branch facilities, however, posed a twofold problem. Everything had to be kept for 90 days, creating a storage problem, and the weekly $35 pickup fee at over 100 locations was expensive. Locked trash compactors which could handle 60 days of paper and be stored in a warehouse took care of both issues.
His next major initiative in his quest to find new ways of both saving money and the planet was lighting. All incandescent light bulbs were switched to CFL and LED. At the end of 2012 1st Source’s cumulative net electric savings from lighting came to just under $90,000. Exterior signs remain, as Doug says, “energy hogs.” And they don’t last long either, requiring daily checks and repairs. 18 months ago he started to move to LED lights; 2 facilities are completely converted and 11 others are waiting approval.
Doug is now looking at thermostats that can be programed over the web. At this point 1st Source has almost 500 different thermostats in 126 facilities. In 5 pilot programs web programmable thermostats are installed which can be adjusted centrally. In addition, working with Dr. Peter Bauer of Notre Dame, a prototype is in place that adds another feature: when the burglar alarm is set, it automatically shuts off all the things that an office often leaves on or running, from coffee makers, copiers to computers and lights.
And there is more: All facilities have bike racks—Bremen and Nappanee also have facilities for horses—and Doug is considering putting in bike lockers. 1st Source is in its 4th year of sponsoring the Blueberry Breakfast for the “Bike to Work” week. All maintenance trucks now are Ford Transits resulting in astronomical gas savings. At major facilities aluminum cans are picked up by the Boy Scouts, but plastic still remains a problem. So he is looking at collaboration with Whirlpool to get trash compactors.
Doug has had a major impact on making his organization more sustainable and saving money as well. “Perhaps because I have kids,” says Doug, reflecting on why feels such a strong responsibility to the future and living more sustainably; a commitment that, he says, is supported by 1st Source.
Angela Nelson, Manager, Public Affairs, NIPSCO
Angela Nelson was attracted to NIPSCO in part because of the company’s commitment to clean air technology. ...She first got interested in sustainability through a professor at IU Northwest when she was working on her Master’s degree in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA). The professor motivated her to take as many environmental affairs courses as possible and inspired her to become a champion for the cause of saving the environment. With Nelson’s undergraduate background in electrical engineering, this turned into a powerful and productive combination.
Dwayne Borkholder, President, Borkholder Buildings and Supply & New Energy Homes
As the housing market began its decline four years ago, Dwayne Borkholder thought about improvements he could make for his industry and ultimately for our society. “What I saw was the need for energy conservation.” So, he asked himself how he could build homes and commercial buildings to be more energy efficient. To this end, he educated himself on new methods of construction and especially on methods for insulating— inherently different from traditional ways of doing things—and succeeded in cutting energy usage dramatically.
The ultimate goal is the Zero Energy Home, which Borkholder calls “the most affordable home in America.” Zero Energy Homes produce as much energy as they use. The way he builds a home, it costs only 10-15% more up front, but then enjoys a lifetime of energy savings. Considering that, in a span of 30 years, the average home will use about $200,000 in utility bills, the Zero Energy Home he built in Nappanee at a cost of $150,000 pays for itself and more.
Even if it’s not Zero Energy, Borkholder’s homes are very energy efficient, using a Hybrid Insulation Package, solar elements, and other energy saving devices. They are tested by professional raters with HERS, the Home Energy Rating System. His houses come in at around 50, half the energy use of the standard home. He only wishes that in future everyone would rate homes like cars, so that a buyer does not merely consider the cost of the house but also its energy usage for years to come. Dwayne Borkholder knows that part of his job is getting the word out. “The public needs to get educated about the real costs of buying a home.”
Despite the risks of starting on a new path, Dwayne Borkholder is committed to this new direction which benefits society and offers a sustainable way of investing in our future.
Reflecting on the future of sustainability, Carissa Hipsher has this to say: “Lots of environmental people are negative, saying that we are doomed. I do not believe this. On the contrary I believe that we have a great future. But we do have to adapt and change our mindset. The earth is what is sustaining us. It only makes sense to treat it right.”
Carissa became interested in sustainability in middle school when she was doing a science project. In a Michigan January she managed to build two solar cookers which, even at that cold time of year, produced temperatures of 110 to 120F. During high school she became ever more passionate about the environment. She will always remember a pivotal moment when she realized that there is no “away,” that even her baby diapers are still sitting in some landfill, that each of us, no matter how careful we are, has a considerable environmental footprint. So Carissa started a recycling program for bottles and cans at her high school, getting containers donated from the local waste district. In college at Ball State, she continued her commitment to the environment by focusing on energy and water. She completed a National Science Foundation project on renewable energy and became president of the Students for a Sustainable Campus.
After graduation from Ball State University in 2010, the Center for a Sustainable Future offered her an internship. She was the first person to organize what turned out to be a huge electronic recycling program, the Center's annual E-Waste Fest, run by Apple. In the first year IUSB recycled 125 tons (250,000 pounds) of electronics from 1,535 vehicles. Carissa was in charge of this program for two more years, with continued success. Her organization, extensive notes and contacts will make it easy for the next person to step in her place. At the Center, she also designed a website for the community with information on recycling anything from bridal gowns to paint. In what little spare time she had, Carissa was a member of the Greenhouse Community Garden and helped to establish the first community garden in Mishawaka.
In the fall of 2012, she is off to graduate school in Maryland where she is planning to combine academic work with experience in the world beyond it. Her skills in research and organization, as well as her passionate commitment and her cheerful spirit of cooperation will assure that she will help to work for a better more sustainable future for us all.
Walking home in the summer of 2009, Laureen Fagan, a journalist living on South Bend's east side, noticed a vacant corner lot not far from her home. “What a nice spot for a community garden,” she thought. A woman of action with a belief that community is built through projects which engage people with each other, she purchased the lot and developed it as part of Unity Gardens.
Today, 1600 square feet of the once weedy lot is home to ten 12 by 12 plots and three raised beds where she grows peas, cabbage, tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables. The corners of the garden feature native flowers which make a colorful and welcoming entry. Right now the poppies are an orange blaze, but soon there will be black-eyed susans, day lilies, purple coneflowers, and coreopsis. When the vegetables are ready for harvesting, anyone can pick what they need. In the height of summer Laureen has a sharing box heaped with ripe vegetables for anyone to enjoy.
The garden Laureen started has become a spot for socializing in the neighborhood. Many help out, lend tools, or just come to chat. Kids from the area weed and learn about plants; bus drivers wave as they pass. While talking with Laureen in the garden, a neighbor stopped by. The day before, he had helped Laureen spread half a truck load of compost. Looking around the neat beds, he said, “There is pride in this here garden.”
Laureen’s commitment has created not only a supply of fresh vegetables but a quiet spot of beauty and a sense of community. “It’s an extension of my values,” she says. “To make deliberate choices about relationships and behaviors that I hope will help us reimagine what it means to be a community.” Learn more about the Madison Square Garden HERE
After earning a PhD in environmental science, Charlotte decided to create a diversified sustainable farm, in itself, as she notes, “an endangered species.” This project fit in with her husband’s commitment to land restoration. In 1992 they purchased 85 acres just south of South Bend and called it Prairie Winds Farm. There are 65 acres dedicated to wetland, prairie, and wildlife habitat restoration, and the remaining 20 acres to raising livestock, vegetables, fruit, and beehives for honey. The soil had been degraded from years of chemicals, and Charlotte works to restore it to health. “Even after more than 10 years,” she remarks, “the land is still healing.”
Charlotte raises heritage breed animals, sheep, poultry, goats and cattle. The breeds are hardy and have good mothering instincts. She believes that genetic preservation of native livestock is as significant as that of wild animals. In addition it is important for Charlotte to connect with other community members on farm related projects, such as establishing an organic growers cooperative in her area. She also works with the Monroe Grocery Coop to help provide secure local food at affordable prices.
A crucial element of Charlotte’s farm is its educational aspect. In summer Charlotte hosts week long kids’ camps and has a constant stream of visitors. Her newest project is a sustainable farming internship program which she is developing in collaboration with Theri Niemier from Bertrand Farm. They are creating a broad curriculum for junior high school students and up where interns will learn about land restoration, animal husbandry, and sustainable farming. Both Charlotte and Theri are committed to educate the young on the need for a secure and local food supply in a low energy future.
Previously Featured FireSouls
“I was brought up sustainable and always liked to conserve,” says Myles Robertson, a student at IUSB. He has made a significant impact on his campus in a series of firsts, building the first school garden, serving as first president of the new Sustainability and Wellness Club, and earning the first Minor in Sustainability Studies. This academic year Myles is working on water conservation in the River Crossing Campus Apartments, planting a grove of trees in the student housing area, improving the wetlands there, and measuring the water quality of the St. Joseph River.
He learned about gardening from his parents and last Spring organized fellow students to build nine raised beds, using the wood from the deck of the Jordan International Center as it was being torn down. The garden produces a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables: cantaloupe and broccoli, leeks, heirloom tomatoes, Brussels sprouts and more. Many of the plants were donated by Blue Star Produce of Buchanan. What the campus doesn’t use is given to the Center for the Homeless. This fall two rain barrels will be painted and installed and Myles plans to start composting.
Paul Krikau of the Office of Student Housing was so impressed with Myles’ work that he offered him a job. In exchange for free housing, Myles is to help make student housing more sustainable. He is starting this process by measuring current water usage and calculating the water saving from aerators and low flow shower heads. He also wants to make IUSB a recycling hub for the surrounding community and would like to find a way of integrating community gardens into the curriculum of elementary schools.
Myles is full of plans and enthusiasm and his track record proves that he can make his ideas become reality. “The greatest challenge in making society more sustainable,” he says thoughtfully, “is changing our culture and how we live.”
George Howard, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame, has bridged the gap between research and practical experience. In the process he has had an immediate and substantial impact on working toward a more sustainable future. He started to be seriously interested in environmental issues 20 years ago. He began to write books concerned with environmental science and its relation to our moral traditions and to psychology, and he installed geothermal heating and air conditioning in his home.
One book especially, Stan Ovshinsky and the Hydrogen Economy, attracted the attention of Nathan Vogel, Sales and Project Manager at Inovateus, a thriving development company in South Bend. As a result of conversations with George Howard and Vogel’s own commitment to make a difference, a separate company, Inovateus Solar was established. Tom Kanczuzeski became President and TJ Kanczuzeski Executive Vice President of the new company. George Howard, as volunteer consultant, uses his skills in psychology to provide customers with the necessary information for making the leap into solar. Today Inovateus Solar is installing solar roofs all over the U.S. With his expertise in research and psychology, George contributes to their goal of making Inovateus Solar the best solar company possible and in doing so helps the planet.
Rey and GlendaRae Hernandez
Rey and GlendaRae Hernandez live by a simple but profound principle, borrowed from American Indians: walk lightly upon the earth. Rey explains: “The more I take for myself, the less there is for anyone else. The earth has limited resources.” They understand that low consumption is a team effort, that we have to support each other in it, and that what doesn’t support this way of life sabotages it. Rey learned this from his father, a Mexican migrant worker who built his own home largely out of recycled materials, and grew his own fruits and vegetables. Rey now helps with the Unity Garden project.
GlendaRae adds an all pervasive social justice commitment to their values which she has absorbed from her parents. As soon as she graduated from college, GlendaRae knew that “I wanted to work in the inner city.” She helped with preschool education for children who were to be in Headstart, and ran the day care center at Broadway Christian Church. In the 1970’s she fought to save their inner city neighborhood which was threatened to be torn down. “There has been quite a transformation, but it’s always been a fight,” she says. In 1984 she joined the Human Rights Commission and recently she has been engaged in promoting study circles on race held all over the city. She is active in the League of Women Voters and has been engaged in a tough love parents support group and a reentry task force for released prisoners.
The Hernandez’s came to South Bend in 1965 where Rey first took a job with the migrant project of the St. Joseph County Council of Churches. They bought their home on South Street in 1966 and, true to their values, still live there today. They also continue to tithe 10% of their income as they did when they had only $40 a week and for over 40 years have given far more than that. Rey and GlendaRey are inspiring examples of a lifelong dedication to always find new and concrete ways to live their values, help the community, and help the earth.
Deborah Marr’s commitment to sustainability involves teaching, research, and extensive work in the campus community. She regularly teaches an environmental biology course and during the 2007/8 academic year she co-chaired the IU South Bend Campus Theme “Sustainability Communities,” facilitating discussions, bringing in speakers, and increasing awareness of classes with sustainability content. As soon as she joined the faculty in 2000, Deb played an active part in recycling, which made her even more aware of the conflict between the waste we produce and the finite resources available to us. She worked to expand the items IUSB recycles and was one of the chief organizers of the annual recycling initiative for campus and community, collecting styrofoam, egg cartons, and plastic bags. This was followed in 2008 and 09 by two hugely successful years of recycling thousands of pounds of electronics. Deb also serves as mentor of the Environmental Justice Club. One of their tasks is to monitor the water quality of the St. Joe River, submitting their data to the Hoosier River Watch.
As a young post doctoral st
udent Deb did research in Tennessee cedar glades where she found unique habitats for plants and animals. When a significant part of this terrain was cemented over for a Nascar race track, it brought home in a personal way how land use decisions can result in the irreplaceable loss of habitat for rare species. Today Deb studies tall grass prairie restoration in collaboration with her Biology colleague Andy Schnabel, and they both work with the Nature Conservancy. On campus she is helping to establish native plants along the river in a mix of wetland and upland prairie. Her other research interest is in Fusarium, a group of fungi that can infect many plant species. Once again she witnesses nature’s infinite diversity, this time of fungi, some of which cause disease and others don’t. In her lab Deb helps her students study how fungi affect native plants; others study the optimal growing conditions for algae that have potential for use as biofuels. She always makes time for students who need help with their lab projects. Deb is a model of combining her commitment to sustainability as scientist and teacher with hands on work that helps to improve our environment.
John and Danile Martens
It’s impossible to mention all the ways in which John and Danile Martens manage to have as small a carbon footprint as possible. Their electricity comes from solar panels on their garage; their heat in winter from a big stone stove that both heats the house and serves as oven for Danile’s home baked bread. Their rain water is harvested into two large cisterns. All their vegetables and most of their fruit come from their garden. Beyond that, they bought a farm whose land, worn out by decades of row crop production, grew nothing but weeds. Through rotational cattle grazing, however, they now have a rich pasture which sequesters a ton of carbon per acre per year, eliminates erosion, and transforms the soil into a living fertile system. And pasture raised beef has dramatic health benefits for us. It is, says John, “a win situation for the land, the people, and the animals.” John also regularly travels to Congo to help build hospitals there.
John and Danile come from Mennonite families committed to honor the land and make the world a better place. Danile’s parents were raised on farms but as adults decided to work with urban poor. John’s parents went to Congo where his mother ran a hospital and his father taught Bible school. Soon after John and Danile were married, they spent four years in Cambodia where John gave doctors basic training in surgery and both made contact with a group of Americans who worked on creating a permaculture. On their return to the U.S. in 1996 they vowed to do everything they could to help the planet under siege. “We carry responsibility for the fate of our world in our hands.” Their life abroad had taught them that change is possible and they committed themselves to live sustainably, help others to do likewise, and fight for social justice.
John and Danile know that the rewards for their efforts are tremendous. They have learned that “the synergy between human and natural intelligence can produce phenomenal results.” They agree with Wendell Berry who said: "The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope."
“My office does not have a roof,” says Chris Kaehr, Grounds Crew Leader at IUSB and winner of the Center for a Sustainable Future's Campus Sustainability Award for 2010. Chris has a degree in Accounting, but he soon committed himself to a job that allowed him to be outside with flowers, trees, and grass. From the start sustainability has been his concern. Chris has seen his mission to protect the earth from all the trash and poisons that threaten it. In the four years that he has been at IUSB he instituted many eco friendly changes and he continues to work and research to make IUSB grounds more sustainable.
Chris started a program to haul 400 yards of yard waste from the campus to the St. Joseph Resource Center for composting. The tractors he uses run on soy diesel fuel and he is gradually replacing all water-greedy annual plants with water-frugal perennials. To further reduce water usage he installed wireless rain gauges. Chris is always seeking better ways to avoid soil and groundwater contamination. Herbicides to control dandelions are limited to one application each year and he is researching the possibility of switching from synthetic to organic fertilizer which has more micronutrients but also is more costly, always a concern for the university.
Chris stresses, however, that it is not he who deserves the credit for these and other initiatives, but his wonderful crew who put his ideas into practice. Many of them have been with IUSB for a long time. They are Corina Martin, 13 years, Kevin Neese, 5 years, Greg Opaczewski, 32 years, Chris Slott, 3 years, and Adam Wable, 10 years. “All of us are careful how we treat Mother Nature,” says Chris.
"I think I was born a ‘green,’” says Kathleen Petitjean, who grew up on a farm west of South Bend. When her parents sold their farm years later, she said good bye to her favorite trees, hugging the elm tree that stood just outside their kitchen window, the blue spruce that had served as a tree house, and the pear tree that had given them such luscious fruit. She is, as she says herself, “an unabashed tree hugger.”
Working in Germany from 1988 to1992 Kathleen was awakened to new possibilities of living sustainably. She admired the efficient public transportation system, the emphasis on recycling, and the Germans’ pride in their green spaces and their gardens. She also got to know the Green Party.
Back in South Bend, Kathleen became active in the local Green Party. Although she has a demanding job as a pediatric occupational therapist, she works tirelessly on her mission to bring more environmental awareness to this area. Her chief project is advocating for the installation of a hydroelectric plant, which she first explored as part of her Master of Liberal Studies degree at Indiana University South Bend. “Harnessing the energy of the St. Joseph River”, Kathleen noted, “will help reduce our area's carbon footprint. The project's underwater viewing chamber can also bring us closer to our history and serve as a learning tool for our children.” Now as a member of the Green Energy Committee for South Bend's Green Ribbon Commission, she is closer to her goal. The city is applying for a major grant which might include a feasibility study for the hydro plant.
Her newest commitment is to raise awareness for sustainability in our schools, working with administrators, teachers, and students. With her energy, commitment, and good spirits, Kathleen is a major force in South Bend’s drive toward sustainability.
Evie Kirkwood, Director of St. Joseph County Parks, is the first ever winner of the Barb King Environmental Leadership Award given by the National Recreation and Parks Association. It is a well deserved recognition. Since Evie began her work with St. Joseph County Parks as an intern in 1979 she has dedicated herself to the environment. “It’s an honor to be entrusted with the care and the quality of natural spaces in St. Joseph County.”
Evie has worked tirelessly in environmental education, trying to reach all sectors of the community, the old and the young, school children, church groups, underserved kids. She shares with them her love of nature and teaches them their role in sustaining the environment. Evie sees it as important “to be an ambassador for St. Joseph County,” but she also reaches beyond the immediate region. For 15 years she wrote the “Nature Notes” for the South Bend Tribune, and her half hour TV show “Outdoor Elements” is in its 9th season.
Projects that preserve the land are another of her passions. Under her leadership, roughly 300 acres at Spicer Lake were dedicated to Nature Preserve Status which protects that space from development and maintains a pristine habitat. Evie loves all the parks under her care and preserves their cultural heritage as well. Each is unique and they “all have different stories to tell.” St. Patrick’s Park, where her office is located, once was a farm of the Sisters of the Holy Cross. In fact the park office, overlooking a lake with a vista of the St. Joseph River beyond, is located in the former pig barn.
In all the years that she has worked with the Parks, from receptionist, ranger, summer camp manager to her present role as director, Evie feels lucky in her job. It unites her vocation with her avocation.
Long before it became a buzz word, LeRoy Troyer has been committed to foster sustainable communities and life styles. Even as a student at Notre Dame in 1968 he organized the first international youth conference on the human environment. When he founded his architect firm in 1971, its mission was sustainable design. Troyer’s commitment to sustainability fits in with his Mennonite values of responsible stewardship and emphasis on community and service. Now grown to more than 60 professionals, the Troyer Group, in LeRoy Troyer’s words, has been “putting our efforts and energies into helping improve people’s lives.” Troyer’s activism for the environment is vigorous and far reaching. Every year since 1986, he has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, working alongside President Jimmy Carter. At home, he regularly participates in South Bend’s Christmas in April program. He is Trustee of the Environic Foundation International dedicated to creating sustainable societies, both in the U.S. and abroad. He himself is a LEED AP as are many of the architects, engineers, landscapers, and urban planners in the Troyer Group. Under Troyer’s leadership his firm has won many prestigious awards for its mission to create a sustainable environment. But what is most important to him is that his work empowers people to make a better life for themselves.