This week’s Changemaker Interview is with GreenFaith’s Stacey Kennealy, who joined the NWEI partner organization network this past year. Stacey reminds us that “we cannot protect what we do not love” – and shares the important message that we must remember self-care and patience as we work to effect change.
What has been a primary motivator in your becoming a community organizer for change and a leader in the sustainability field?
You’ll often hear in environmental education circles the phrase that “you cannot protect what you do not love.” This has certainly been true for me. While I didn’t have access to hiking or other outdoor adventures as a kid, in college I discovered the great outdoors and it was vital for me—it wasn’t just a source of recreation, but a source of strength, vitality and healing, something I sorely needed after a very difficult childhood. This made the issue very personal, and very integral to my sense of self. I also had a deep connection to animals and vulnerable communities from the time I was very young, and a desire to protect them. It was the intersection of these two worlds that has been the seed for my work and passion around environmental issues.
Tell us what inspires you to keep working in the face of complex challenges and setbacks?
There is a Jewish teaching that resonates with me—“You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” When it comes to environmental problems or any other serious challenge we face, we can accomplish a great deal more if we shift the focus from “winning” or “completing” to “contributing.” Every single one of us can contribute, and we are required to do so as members of the global community. This realization takes what seems to be an insurmountable and depressing task to one where we have agency, and hope.
Share one story of something that worked in your efforts to effect change. What contributed to the success?
The GreenFaith Certification Program, which I co-created and now manage, represents change and success in a big way—over 75 houses of worship throughout the country are decreasing their environmental footprint, seeing environmental protection as a religious value, and working hard for environmental justice in low income communities and communities of color. This success is possible because of the holistic way in which these communities engage the issue of “environment”—it’s everywhere we live, work, play and pray. Success in these congregations is also contingent upon GreenFaith’s assistance—we meet them where they’re at, no matter the stage of environmental leadership, and we provide them the mentoring, resources and structure they need. This is a different model than many other programs out there, which only provide information or guidelines. Relationships and mentoring matter when an institution is tackling such a big problem—they need to know how to take positive steps, and they need to be supported in their work.
What insight and wisdom can you offer to other changemakers who are working to make a difference in their communities?
There are three things that have helped me a great deal in this work—self-care, patience, and adapting your approach to the audience. First and often most importantly is self-care; you have to sustain the sustainer. It’s important to take time for yourself, find nourishing activities, and give yourself some much needed breaks. Secondly, patience; when you’re working towards big changes, you often want success overnight. Nothing happens overnight, and this work may not even happen in our lifetime. Be patient with others, and be patient with yourself. Lastly, and this is vital to environmental work—change is incremental, and may look very different from one person or community to another. While you need to hold fast to the overarching goals and vision, there are many pathways there and success is often contingent upon meeting people wherever they are at—being mindful of what each community needs, and where they are starting.
Stacey joined the GreenFaith team in 2006, and currently directs the GreenFaith Certification and Shield programs, two innovative ‘greening’ programs for congregations. The Certification Program—with over 75 congregations from 24 states participating—helps faith communities undertake significant and comprehensive environmental initiatives over a two-year period. The GreenFaith Shield, a less intensive merit badge program, focuses congregations’ efforts around one environmental topic at a time. Stacey also authors ‘green’ guides for faith based communities, and provides consultation to sites that have environmental questions or need assistance.
Stacey graduated Rutgers University with degrees in environmental policy and ecology, and has since received training through the Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education, The Climate Project, the Center for Whole Communities, and the Property and Environment Research Center. In 2013 she was designated as one of the Top 10 Spiritual Heroes by Spirituality and Health Magazine, and in 2010 was named ‘Top 40 under 40’ by the Pennsylvania Environmental Council. Stacey also owns a sustainable jewelry business.