Action for Solar Energy in Philadelphia, The Millers River Center for Regional Self-Reliance, and More

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Ruth Suyenaga, a former textile designer, codirects the Millers River Center for Regional Self-Reliance, and has been working to acquaint people with the benefits of insulated window coverings.
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Glenn McRae and Adam Levine work to promote energy conservation and the use of renewable energy sources in the greater Philadelphia area

Action for Solar Energy in Philadelphia

Glenn McRae and Adam Levine are two dedicated young men who are involved in promoting energy conservation, and the use of renewable energy sources, in the greater Philadelphia area. Glenn’s job at the Grass Roots Alliance for a Solar Pennsylvania (GRASP) evolved from volunteer work (he produced The Resource Guide for Solar Action in Philadelphia). GRASP now supports three staff members, and undertakes an array of community programs (including putting out a monthly newsletter, setting up hands-on workshops, holding energy fairs, etc.).

Adam is currently a freelance writer and treasurer of the Philadelphia Solar Energy Association (PSEA), a volunteer organization composed of energy consumers and professionals. PSEA’s projects include the publication of the Philadelphia Solar Directory, and the presentation of workshops, lectures, and tours of local solar installations.

Adam and Glenn are both quick to point out that their groups represent only two of many that are doing similar work in urban settings. In fact, Glenn more or less summed up their feelings when he said, “We’re achieving a really good complementary relationship; each group has its own niche, but none of us feel that we can do it alone. We’re all trying to work together, and I think this is the real key to what we call the ‘energy movement’ in Philadelphia.” -JWD

Birthright Centers Offer Help for Pregnant Women

Terry Weaver’s enthusiasm for Birthright continues to grow after 13 years as a regional consultant in Atlanta, Georgia, where, in 1970, she started one of the first of today’s more than 400 U.S. Birthright centers. The purpose of the organization–which is nonsectarian, nonprofit, and funded by donations–is to offer positive alternatives to abortion. Mrs. Weaver sees Birthright as a vehicle for providing love and support to troubled women. “Though Birthright is pro-life in philosophy,” says Terry, “it will not turn away those who finally do opt for abortion, because its aim is to give hope to women and families who are discouraged and helpless.”

In meeting emergency pregnancy needs, Birthright doesn’t duplicate community resources, but works in cooperation with them. Its services include confirming pregnancies, locating medical facilities, obtaining housing if needed, and supplying maternity clothes and layettes (which volunteers collect, clean, and mend). Jobs are also found, not only for the women, but often for unemployed fathers-to-be. Volunteers are available to counsel and provide emotional support, as well.

The Atlanta center has some 50 workers and, in 1982, assisted 4,200 expectant mothers (from all economic strata and many races, who–while generally in their late teens and early 20’s–ranged in age from 13 to 46). One of the center’s favorite helpers knits baby sweaters, though she is 96 and almost blind.

In addition to administering the Atlanta organization, Terry–as one of nearly 30 regional consultants–counsels other centers, showing them how to train volunteers, raise money, advertise, tap into community resources, and stimulate local interest.

Terry summarizes the significance of the organization: “Birthright gives pregnant women someone to talk to; someone who’ll listen without judging their feelings or actions.” -LL

Ruth Suyenaga: The Millers River Center

Hawaii-born Ruth Suyenaga worked as a textile designer in South America for six years, and her silk-screened kimonos have been sold at such stores as Bloomingdale’s in New York City. She now prefers, however, to share her time and talents with the people of rural north-central Massachusetts. Ruth codirects (with her husband, Mark Shoul) the Millers River Center for Regional Self-Reliance, a nonprofit organization that offers educational workshops and provides technical assistance on matters of economic development and alternative energy to area residents.

One of the more popular projects sponsored by the center involves acquainting people with the benefits of insulated window coverings. Ruth notes that most people “aren’t aware that they can save a third of their heating or air-conditioning bills by using thermal shades.” So she speaks to hundreds of men and women in local school, church, and civic groups, and teaches her audience how to make the energy-saving curtains for about half the cost of those produced commercially. Suyenaga points out that fabrics for window coverings can be chosen from a variety of decorative materials–to accommodate individual differences in taste–and adds that the end products could look better than store-bought thermal shades (which she finds “lacking in aesthetic appeal”). She would like to see custom-made insulated shades in public buildings, and believes that this would make “an ideal project for a civic group using donated labor and materials.”

Another of the center’s undertakings is the Millers River Trade Service. This skills-and-goods exchange serves the residents of more than a dozen towns in the region. Ruth is particularly excited about this project, because it’s helping local citizens offset the harsh reality of unemployment. -Allen Young

Kentucky Folksinger Raises Environmental Awareness

Folksinger Michael Johnathon, in an effort to encourage young Kentucky residents to take pride in their homeland, will carry a musical message to more than 300 schools in eastern Kentucky. Michael’s program, entitled “Clean a Creek,” uses traditional mountain music to inspire a love of and concern for the land. In his role as “Appalachian troubadour,” Johnathon hopes to raise environmental awareness and thus help create a cleaner, more beautiful Kentucky.

Wild America TV Series to Document American Wildlife

After coming to the realization that “it is up to humans to protect what is left of our rapidly vanishing wilderness,” Marty Stouffer decided to devote himself to the filming of’ wildlife. Marty is the producer, host, and narrator of the PBS television series Wild America, which begins its second season this fall. The production’s ten episodes will include “Backyard Wildlife,” which explains how such animals as deer and coyotes are adapting to an environment shared with humans, “Born to Run,” about the fascinating pronghorn of the Western prairies, and “The Man Who Loved Bears,” which relates Stauffer’s experience of preparing a bear cub–adopted from the zoo–for life in the wild.

Urban Foraging

Wild-food expert Steven Brill finds an abundance of uncultivated edibles within the confines of his urban environment. Steven leads enthusiastic groups of foragers on walks through the parks of New York City, and notes that an average five-hour walk will uncover about 30 different wild foods. During the fall season, for example, many kinds of fruits–including the highbush cranberries of Central Park–can be gathered, along with various nuts, roots, and mushrooms. “Wildman” Brill instructs his followers to collect plants “ecologically,” so that the environment is left unharmed. In addition to conducting the walks, Brill teaches a course on the identification and collection of wild edible plants at the New School for Social Research, and gives lectures at public libraries. Steven wants to make people aware that it isn’t necessary to move to the country in order to eat healthful foods: On the contrary, he says, “It’s all here.” -DM