When I walk into the room, people first notice my smile, which puts them at ease. Then, I start to discuss the serious and frightening aspects of global warming and environmental deterioration imaginable. My smile is replaced by a serious expression and so is theirs. Mostly, the conversation turns into an important discussion. Sometimes, it overwhelms others and ends abruptly. This is my new life, whether I like it or not.

Given my approach to tackling environmental issues, people are surprised to learn of my background. I’m a clinical social worker, with advanced training in psychotherapy, and I have researched self esteem. Because I enjoy helping people through therapy, I am patient with clients, respecting their right to change at their own pace.

Unfortunately, time is the enemy on the environmental front, and my patience often wears thin. Last spring I learned how dire our environmental crisis is and how few resources exist to help people live in an environmentally friendly way. In response, I created the Green Community Center, dedicated to teaching and connecting people with resources, but my idea was not well received at first by existing environmental organizations. What I saw as an important but missing piece of the whole sustainability puzzle – education and support for the average person – they took as me pointing out a shortcoming in their work. I justify my existence in the environmental world by explaining that we not only need people who understand technology and public policy, but also people like myself, who want to work with people and help them learn and change their lives.

What sustained me during the discouraging days of trying to get the center going were green merchants. I found these people passionate and courageous, many holding two jobs to support their fledgling enterprises. With their help, the center held its first event, the Green Holiday Bazaar, on Dec. 6. We advertised and I started a weekly newsletter to promote the event and the center. Because of snow and the collapsing economy, shoppers looked for bargains, rather than green products, elsewhere. We anticipated 100 to 200 shoppers, but only 35 to 40 showed. I was horrified by the low attendance and felt terrible for the vendors, who put so much into the event.

In January, the center began a presentation series. We have hosted seven to date, on such topics as weatherizing your house, eating locally, and using less electricity. All have gone over well, yet attendance remains low.

Village official Karen Rozmus and the environmental and energy advisory commission have co-sponsored presentations, as will the Oak Park Public Library and the Sierra Club. I am also collaborating with the Interfaith Green Network. By partnering, I hope to increase attendance, but with no funding yet, I have begun my own private therapy and life coaching practice, which is equally difficult in this economy.

Nonetheless, I will not give up on my dream for the Green Community Center. The most tragic part is that, if we fail to learn and change our behaviors, it’s not us who will suffer famine and disease that inevitably will be brought about by climate change, it will be our children.

Join the discussion on social media!