Su Thieda, EarthCorps program director, answers questionsSu Thieda, EarthCorps program director, ans
What work do you do?
I am director of programs for EarthCorps.
What does your organization do?
EarthCorps’ mission is to build global community through local environmental service. EarthCorps restores native habitat while training young leaders and engaging volunteers in hands-on environmental service.
On a day-to-day basis, EarthCorps crews can be found in parks, greenbelts, streams, golf courses — almost any public green space — removing nonnative plants and replacing them with native species, or doing related work such as installing large woody debris into streams.
EarthCorps strives to be a place where young adults can explore their dreams, their ideas, their visions, and be supported for being the smart, powerful people they are. We also try to light the way for other people to get inspired about trees, fish, birds, and their community.
What are you working on at the moment?
One of my favorite projects right now is facilitating a research study that is evaluating the effects of urban forestry work on young people. The study is spearheaded by a fabulous researcher at the University of Washington and funded by the USDA through the National Urban and Community Forestry Advisory Council. It is fun to prove what you already know — that working outdoors is good for people.
What long and winding road led you to your current position?
I always wanted to work with trees, so being the naive, semi-urban/suburban tomgirl I was, I thought I wanted to be a logger. I eventually learned more about what that meant and decided that I wanted to be a forester. College was not really an option after high school, so I joined the Young Adult Conservation Corps, a federal residential program to train young adults in conservation service.
In the early ’80s, I completed a two-year Wilderness Leadership certification program at North Country Community College in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, which set the stage for my leadership roles. Then a string of assorted seasonal jobs with the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and environmental education programs. I finally landed a part-time position with the Student Conservation Association creating skill-based trainings to keep the art of cross-cutting, rock work, and timber work alive. I was at SCA Northwest for about 10 years before coming to EarthCorps two years ago.
Where were you born? Where do you live now?
I was born near Los Angeles and currently live in Seattle.
What’s been the best moment in your professional life to date?
Driving the first recycling collection truck into Seattle.
Who is your environmental hero?
My environmental heroes are the young adults (ages 20 to 25), corps members, who arrive at EarthCorps by bus, bike, and vanpool by 7:30 each morning to restore salmon streams, shorelines, and forests. Despite the challenges we face, they radiate with joy and are committed to making a difference in the world. For our international participants, add to that commitment living apart from their family and culture for six months or more. Currently we have individuals from Nepal, Tajikistan, Ecuador, Mexico, the Philippines, Russia, Brazil, Fiji, Uzbekistan, Ecuador, Mongolia, Honduras, and Costa Rica. Talk about global wealth!
What is your environmental nightmare?
Capitalism. It is an economic system that puts greed before the planet’s well-being.
What’s your environmental vice?
I am still hooked on oil and gas. The furnace in my house, the car I drive a lot, the food I buy from faraway places, etc.
What are you reading these days?
I have started about four books this year and am making very slow progress on all of them (being a working parent doesn’t allow much time for reading), but they are all great: The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist, The Culture of Fear by Barry Glassner, Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, and The Street-Smart Naturalist by David B. Williams.
What’s your favorite meal?
A salad from my garden.
What’s one thing the environmental movement is doing badly, and how could it be done better?
We’re not talking the language of the average working person. We need to talk about issues so that our grouchy uncle, religious grandmother, etc., can see the relevance. Specifically, we need to talk about the environment in terms of God’s work, and our children’s health and well-being. We need to make the environmental movement more inclusive by learning to speak and listen in ways that reach more minds and hearts.
What are you happy about right now?
Not only do I see the positive impact of our work on the ground, but I also see EarthCorps alumni (50+ young leaders complete our program each year) amplifying our impact as they move on to work with other organizations and continue to implement projects using skills and knowledge gained at EarthCorps.
If you could have every InterActivist reader do one thing, what would it be?
Turn off your TV and go volunteer for something you care about.
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