The New England Grassroots Environment Fund(NEGEF) is a foundation that focuses on providing support to community volunteer initiatives working to make their hometowns healthy, just, safe and environmentally sustainable. In early 2017, ECA-Mass received a $5,000 grant from NEGEF. Our original goal was to foster 10-12 clusters of elders around the state committed to doing something about climate change, in communities with little activity of that kind. By late summer we learned that fostering a strong community response takes a lot of concentrated networking, coaching and support. So we radically revised our approach, deciding to focus heavily—though not exclusively—on Lowell.
In collaboration with Carol Oldham of the Massachusetts Climate Action Network and Emily Kirkland of 350Mass for a Better Future, we identified half a dozen Gateway Cities as priorities. We focused on Lowell, recognizing that it is represented by Rep. Tom Golden, a Democrat who is co-chair on the House side of the powerful Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy. All climate-change legislation must go through that committee. The Senate co-chair is Sen. Barrett, a strong climate-change champion and author for a second time this year of legislation that would establish a state carbon tax. However, there has been far less support on the House side, for which Rep. Golden is the gate-keeper. Because of its potential as a leverage point on State House energy legislation, we decided to invest all of our $5000 grant to hire a community organizer in Lowell.
We chose Charlie Gargiulo, born and raised in Lowell, who brings 40 years of experience and deep ties to the community to his work for ECA. Charlie is reaching out across class and ethnic lines to help us convene a team of elder activists in Lowell that is committed to addressing local environmental issues. This team, coming together for the first time this month, will give us a core group of constituents whom we can use as a base for initiating meetings with Rep. Golden.
We got off to a good start with a meeting in early September with Rep. Golden at his favorite hangout, the Top Donut in Lowell. We plan to go back to him early in 2018 with data gathered by students at @UMassLowell on the impact of even a small hurricane in his district. For example, how many elders would die from lack of air-conditioning due to a power outage from fallen trees? Such an event is inevitable. We’ll ask him what he will do to help the city prepare.
NEGEF showed their satisfaction with our choice of what to do with the 2017 grant by awarding us another $3,700 in December, despite fierce competition. In addition, program officers at the local Theodore Edson Parker Foundation have indicated they will look favorably on an action plan coming from an inclusive team of elders and would consider providing substantially greater support in 2018. So, the payoff from our initial investment looks promising. Stay tuned!