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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

A sustainable GOAL for the future

Published: February 6, 2009
Section: Features

Green Opportunity, Action, and Leadership:  Members of GOAL are in the midst of their pilot program and are offering six fellowships in the green job industry to rising juniors and seniors at the Boston Latin School. <br /><br /><i>PHOTO BY Abraham Berin/The Hoot</i>

Green Opportunity, Action, and Leadership: Members of GOAL are in the midst of their pilot program and are offering six fellowships in the green job industry to rising juniors and seniors at the Boston Latin School.

PHOTO BY Abraham Berin/The Hoot

If you’ve ever walked the aisles of the local Hannaford’s or Walgreens you’ve probably noticed that going green doesn’t come cheap. Like many other things, many people would say you can’t put a price on saving the environment. But with products that are environmentally but hardly wallet friendly, it would certainly seem you can.

Let’s face it; the world is currently up against a number of environmental problems. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase ‘going green’ and have seen the new wave of green businesses eager to jump in and solve environmental problems.

But because of low wages and rising unemployment, the families most affected by environmental problems like pollution are often the ones who cannot afford their solutions. Perhaps you’ve also noticed that it’s often the children that are the most affected by unemployment and environmental problems that are the least targeted by the green revolution.

But if economic disparity is visibly prevalent around Boston and the burgeoning green jobs movement has the potential to provide more jobs, why not create a fusion between the two? And better yet, why not include those that are the most affected by this disparity-children?

These are some of the very questions asked by members of Green Opportunity, Action, and Leadership, a new initiative started by a group of Brandeis students. Through extensive research, members of GOAL discovered a close correlation between a budding green jobs economy and economic relief, and have launched a campaign to simultaneously empower youth and open up the green jobs movement.

Since 1984, 20 of the top 25 corporations with headquarters in Boston have left the area, causing countless workers to lose their jobs. This increase in unemployment, like that of pollution, has left a big problem for the youth of tomorrow to deal with, even though they weren’t responsible for creating it themselves.

“This is not a problem that youth started,” GOAL Co-Executive Director Stephanie Sofer ’09 said. “It’s an accumulation of the behaviors and patterns of generations before us and really, it’s on [our] generation and the younger generations who bear the brunt of having to deal with it.”

And deal with it they are. This year, members of GOAL are offering six fellowships to rising juniors and seniors at the Boston Latin School, the oldest public school in the U.S., with just over 50 percent of its students coming from low income families.

Once chosen, the six students will shadow a GOAL Mentor from a Boston area green business for the summer. So far, GOAL has partnered with two local green businesses: Boston Green Buildings and Zapotec Energy.

But the GOAL experience won’t stop there. After completing their summer mentorship, GOAL fellows will work together over the course of the following academic year to plan and execute a sustainability project to assist their communities.

Upon finishing the mentorship experience, GOAL alumni will have access to career assistance and networking opportunities.

So what brought this team of students together? It all started with a dream-well, sort of.

The initial idea for GOAL materialized for Co-Executive Director Justin Kang ’09 last February as a fusion of the models of several other similar green organizations. But the goal started to become a reality last April when Kang and GOAL Director of Business Partnerships Sarah Levy ’11 attended Dream Reborn, a green jobs conference in Memphis, Tenn. Hosted by Green For All, a national organization dedicated to raising people out of poverty via a green economy, the conference addressed the topic of green jobs.

At the conference, Kang recalled, Green For All co-founder and president Van Jones kept repeating one phrase over and over: “Create green pathways out of poverty.” Well, like some lucky repetitive cramming before an exam, this particular phrase just happened to stick, and still resonates with Kang nearly a year later.

Inspired by Jones’ words, Kang met with a group of Brandeis students and put the pen to paper to plan GOAL. Kang assembled a crew of nine students with diverse interests and passions and channeled their energy to a common goal: opening up the green jobs sector to groups who were formerly excluded from it, and subsequently lowering economic disparity.

And so GOAL was born. As per their website, GOAL self identifies as a community organization with the vision to tackle many discrete problems of a community at the same time by “providing fellowship experiences to Boston youth in order to train them to become the future leaders of the green industry.”

Sofer sees the organization as providing opportunities to individuals who “broaden and diversify the environmental movement, particularly the [green jobs] economy.”

“I see this fellows program as a step in offering opportunities for people to become passionate about not only the environmental movement but the green business movement,” she said.

Sofer, an active environmental advocate on campus, served as president for Students for Environmental Action for two years and has attended several environmental conferences off campus hosted by several different organizations.

Even while running SEA at Brandeis, Sofer noticed a lack of diversity in the environmental movement, something she says stretches both historically and culturally across the greater movement. Though potentially a negative, Sofer sees this as a positive opportunity to enrich the green movement and economy by including more stakeholders, so she was immediately drawn to GOAL.

The beauty of GOAL, Sofer said, lies in the uniting of this very diverse group of students. Some members, such as herself, are self-proclaimed ‘climate change junkies,’ while others are passionate about youth empowerment. Some, like Anwar Abdul-Wahab ’11, bring firsthand experience to the drawing board.

Growing up in Spanish Harlem, an area with one of the highest asthma rates in New York City, Abdul-Wahab, an asthma patient himself, understands well the plight of low-income families living in such areas. Out of a desire to help those people, he became involved with GOAL to help build the organization.

Though started by Brandeis students, GOAL has now become much more than an occasional planning meeting in the Shapiro Campus Center. Rather, members of GOAL now find themselves scurrying around the Boston area forging connections with green businesses and local schools like the Boston Latin School.

BLS faculty member Cate Arnold first heard about GOAL via an email from the school’s guidance department. Members of GOAL had reached out to the school’s guidance counselors and soon, Arnold was running into members of GOAL at one of their many networking stops.

Arnold serves as the faculty advisor for BLS’ Youth Climate Action Network, a student group similar to SEA at Brandeis, so she was particularly interested in GOAL’s message of youth empowerment.

A few weeks ago, members of GOAL visited the Boston Latin School to give a presentation about their new initiative. At this presentation, Abdul-Wahab explained, he and other GOAL members reiterated the organization’s themes, relaying to students that the GOAL fellowship program extends beyond merely another line on the resume: “This is a summer opportunity, but the larger picture is to help the environment and to get an experience working with green, sustainable jobs,” he said.

When GOAL approached the school, Arnold and other BLS faculty members were in the midst of the MA Climate Literacy Campaign, pushing to require the state of Massachusetts to teach climate change. After GOAL heard of this, Arnold said, they came to a meeting on Jan. 24 and were “such a great voice.”

Using their regret that they hadn’t been taught enough about climate change during high school, members of GOAL quickly became a voice to the urgency of this issue for future generations.

Since GOAL’s presentation, Arnold has paused many a time in the halls of BLS to answer questions of students she’s never met before, who, after hearing about GOAL’s presentation, have asked her about how they can get involved in the summer program. “They’ve been extremely enthusiastic,” she said.

Members of GOAL are now working on achieving 501(c) status, to become an official nonprofit organization. In the future, Sofer said she hopes to expand the number of fellows, high schools and programs that GOAL reaches out to. For this pilot program, though, starting out small seemed just right.

“We felt that it was important to start building a strong partnership with the school,” she said. “We have a lot to learn through this first pilot program. And we felt that it was most prudent to [initially] do a great job with six kids then expand the program out [rather] than to risk losing something.”

GOAL’s prudence and hard work has so far paid off, gaining them the respect of BLS faculty members. “I’m very impressed with them having the initiative to do this…all while being college students,” Arnold said. “I think it’s the perfect kind of thing to help the next generation be prepared and I’m kind of impressed that these people as young as they are are doing this.”

For Abdul-Wahab, at least, this energy and drive all goes back to the words of one very famous speaker and his call for action. Inspired by the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his call for the “fierce urgency of now,” Abdul-Wahab exemplifies one of the many goals of this organization: “[If] you really feel passionate about something, you should do it now. Don’t wait for anyone, do it right away…and stick with it,” he said. “Of course there are going to be rocks in the road, but it’s how you… are able to work with people effectively, and that’s [how you’re] able to get the work done.”