Through Consciously Rebuilding, residents learn the benefits of being eco-friendlyYasmin Bowers, 26, and Andrea Floyd, 24, attended Tulane’s master of public health program in the years after Katrina. After graduation, they decided to stay in New Orleans and help the city’s recovery by founding Consciously Rebuilding. The group, through workshops and information fairs, teaches people how to rebuild greener in ways that improve both the environment and one’s life. Bowers spoke to New Orleans Living about Consciously Rebuilding’s programs and the group’s plans in New Orleans and around the country.
What are the goals of Consciously Rebuilding?
To educate and empower community members of New Orleans on this whole green movement and show how it relates to them, their health, their finances and disaster management. It’s trying to bring the green movement down to a level that everybody can relate to.
Were other environmental groups not focused on the individual community members?
People were telling me they had a sense of being used. A group would come in, do a project, use them for a grant and then leave. They didn’t know what happened to the data. There was a lot of distrust, and we wanted to address that.
How does Consciously Rebuilding create concrete programs that address the community’s needs?
First, we have “action plans.” People ask us to come into their homes or their businesses for a walk-through on what they can do to be greener, to be energy efficient, water efficient, address waste issues and also air quality. That is one branch in our program. Another thing we do is have events, like health fairs or bazaars. So in the Lower Ninth Ward, they wanted us to talk about being green and sustainable. In Central City, they wanted to know about post-traumatic stress syndrome and emergency preparedness. In the Upper Ninth Ward, it was fitness, wellness and alternative forms of medicine. In September we’ll have another forum with CubaNOLA focused on children’s health called Vecinos.
You work on promoting health and conscious living through incremental steps. How do you do that?
At the CubaNOLA event, for example, we’re going to be promoting first steps. So we have a bike raffle. You don’t buy the raffle ticket. Instead, after watching the videos or hearing someone speak, you write down one thing that you can do in your life, that first step that you’re going to take, related to your health, the environment or the community. We’re trusting that you’re actually going to do it. We are promoting the things that they are doing, encouraging it and encouraging them to encourage others. And then seeing what else they are willing to do in terms of next steps.
Does New Orleans face unique health and environmental issues?
One of the main differences is that there is a hurricane season. It’s half the year. It definitely affects the way you live, the way homes are built. It’s part of the culture. You cannot address health or environment without addressing the fact that you have natural disasters in this area.
Is the post-Katrina environment an opportunity to improve the city?
In theory, yes. There are a lot of ways in which you can capitalize on all these fresh ideas. It’s going to take time. I’m hoping that in this time the drive and motivation isn’t lost.
You also run a program that recycles glass into jewelry?
Yes, Consciously Rebuilding collects the glass, washes it and breaks it down. Iccessorize then takes the glass and designs the jewelry. A percentage of the profits go back to Consciously Rebuilding. Since glass is not getting recycled in New Orleans, we thought it was a great opportunity.
What are Consciously Rebuilding’s long-range plans?
Immediately, we will be at the Green Festival in Washington, D.C., for October. We’ll have a booth there where we’ll explain the jewelry program. We are thinking about doing some environmental consulting in New York, doing walk-throughs and presentations. I had a chance to go to Cape Town in South Africa last year. They were so in love with what we are doing, with New Orleans and with the parallels between the two cities. We are trying to do an exchange program where some of them would come here and get experience running a nonprofit. That is a long-term goal that I am really passionate about.
How have two recent graduates been able to launch a program like Consciously Rebuilding?
Since we got started, we have had over 100 volunteers. Our generation stepped up. I’m just really grateful for all of them. That has got us so much more than any other grant or funding opportunity. That’s a long-lasting relationship.
To learn more about Consciously Rebuilding, visit www.consciouslyrebuilding.blogspot.com.