Each month, the Office of Civic & Community Engagement (OCCE) profiles a community partner to highlight the work they are doing in the community. With Earth Day on April 22nd, the OCCE is proud to feature Jamie Maier, Executive Director of Piedmont Environmental Alliance.
Piedmont Environmental Alliance (PEA) educates and empowers, builds community, and inspires action to create a healthier, more economically vibrant, and environmentally sustainable community. PEA achieves its mission through dynamic environmental education programs, environmental action community events, and robust partnerships to support and influence policy and practice on environmental issues.
This year PEA will be hosting its 15th annual Piedmont Earth Day Fair from April 20th to April 26th, virtually. To support the health and wellness of the community in the wake of COVID-19, their event will include daily virtual demonstrations, webinars, movies, and activities bringing awareness to environmental issues and celebrating planet Earth.
Jamie Maier, Executive Director of Piedmont Environmental Alliance
Can you explain the origin of PEA, and how it impacts the Winston-Salem community? What are some of your signature programs and events?
Piedmont Environmental Alliance started 15 years ago with a group of friends who decided to host an Earth Day celebration in Winston-Salem. The first Piedmont Earth Day Fair was held in the parking lot of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Church in 2006. After the successful event, the group decided to form the Piedmont Environmental Alliance as a nonprofit focused on supporting environmental sustainability and stewardship. Over the years, the Earth Day Fair evolved to be our signature event and one of the largest earth day celebrations in North Carolina and reaches over 8,000 people, annually. PEA has also expanded its mission to focus on education in and out of classrooms, regular events, and advocacy to create a healthier, more economically vibrant, and environmentally sustainable community.
PEA’s in-classroom educational programs, Energy Explorers and Every Drop Counts, both use hands-on activities and dynamic discussion to teach math and science skills while enhancing the school curriculum with information about environmental issues like energy and water conservation. These programs reach more than 3,000 7th and 9th-grade students in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Title 1 schools. Participants leave the programs ready and excited to educate parents, friends, and others about important environmental topics and create change in their families, schools, and community.
Annie Fullwood, our AmeriCorps VISTA, has been recruiting and training teams of student volunteers from local colleges and universities to meet the growing demand for these education programs. Working closely with student leaders and interns at Wake Forest University, Salem College, Winston-Salem State University, and University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Annie has recruited and trained more than 30 students to teach in local classrooms. These partnerships expand the impact of PEA’s education programs with volunteers teaching more students every year and providing community learning opportunities for local college students.
PEA’s Environmental Debate Tournament develops young environmental leaders with the skills, knowledge, and passion to become change-makers in the community. We partner with Wake Forest University’s Wake Debate to recruit and train local high school students to engage in competitive, academic debate on leading environmental issues. The culmination of the program is the annual one-day tournament, where students debate both sides of a controversial environmental topic. This year’s event was canceled due to COVID-19, and we are working on a small scale virtual tournament instead.
We also focus on developing and maintaining robust partnerships to support our community and environmental sustainability. We work with city and county agencies, local businesses, community groups, universities, and more to promote environmental policy and practice at every level.
With your Environmental Education Program, how is PEA continuing to engage with youth to teach them about climate change and environmental health? How has that changed as we are navigating this time of social-distancing?
One of the benefits of being a small, local non-profit is that we can be flexible to address the needs of our community. Our in-classroom education programs were able to reach most schools before the COVID-19 shutdown. Today, we’re finding new ways to teach our curricula without being physically in the classroom. Annie has created great videos for Energy Explorers that we will share with teachers, along with corresponding worksheets, that they can then give to their students.
While so many people are finding themselves at home, what can they do to help with environmental efforts from their homes?
The number one thing I would suggest for people to do is use this time to educate themselves about the climate crisis and about how to respond – as individuals, families, businesses, institutions, and more. We want people to understand the scale of the impending environmental crisis and the power of people to make change in the face of this reality.
Some ways to lower your carbon footprint today include eating less meat and conserving energy. I would also encourage people to connect with PEA and other environmental groups that are creating a lot of online content and resources for people to learn and explore environmental issues.
For the last 15 years PEA has hosted an Earth Day Fair. What has been its impact on the community? How has the event been re-imagined in the wake of COVID-19, and what are you most looking forward to?
The Piedmont Earth Day Fair is one of the largest environmental education and celebration fairs in the state of North Carolina. Of course, this year we cannot be together but we are going to have a week’s worth of virtual events. From April 20th to April 26th we will be posting daily content including fun demonstrations on how to raise backyard chickens, blogs, music, live videos, and movies. One night we’re doing a watch party with A/perture for the movie, Chasing Corals. You can see the full event schedule on our website, or sign up on our email list and we’ll notify you of all the different events happening. Even though we can’t be together in person, the whole purpose of this event is to connect with the community, support environmental sustainability and learn about what’s happening on our planet.
I’m really excited about the community nature of these programs around the Piedmont Earth Day Fair with webinars, Zoom meetings, and the many ways we are able to stay connected, even while we’re all in our own homes. I have always loved the community that exists amongst PEA, and am amazed by all of the things that we can accomplish. The power of community to make change is one of the most inspiring and exciting forces in the world, and as we face global crises like COVID-19 and climate change, we need to harness that power and use it.
If you had 30 seconds to tell someone about PEA, what would you want them to know?
I want them to know that we are facing a climate crisis that is going to impact everyone on this planet and one of the best ways we can create change is by making change locally, in our families and institutions. Local groups like PEA are leading the charge.
How can community members and students get involved with PEA now, and once social-distancing measures are no longer in effect?
The best way to get involved is by joining PEA’s email list. For the time being, individuals can attend virtual events, and as social distancing measures change, in-person events to meet us and the community. With the email list, you’ll be able to learn more about the different opportunities. We’re always looking for people to attend different events and volunteer with us. We have volunteer opportunities on all levels from interns to single-event volunteers.
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