When two oil tankers collided and spilled 800,000 gallons of oil into San Francisco Bay in January, 1971, I cut high school with my friends and waded into the volunteer cleanup effort. I was 16. The first Earth Day happened nine months before. It was just two years since the 3-million-gallon Santa Barbara offshore oil spill disaster. The planet was suffering.
I decided to attend Humboldt State University in 1975, mainly because the redwoods and the ocean converged there. I soon walked into the NEC to do research on Humboldt Bay for a class assignment.
Here in the back room of a backpacking shop were all these people working passionately for the environment. NEC director Tim McKay introduced me to EcoNews coordinator Michael Matthews, who turned me over to editor Sid Dominitz, who put me to work. Just like that.
Sid, the hard-nosed former copy editor for Reuters and United Press, encouraged my volunteer writing with his red pen. I decided to declare a Journalism major at HSU the same time he landed a job there and wound up as my editing teacher. The hook set deeper. I was soon an intern for EcoNews at the NEC, and kept volunteering until I graduated in 1979. My photojournalism professor Mark Larson steered me toward a master's degree focused on environmental communication.
After that, it wasn't long before I was back in Humboldt County, working as an environment and government reporter for the Times-Standard. Tim and Sid hired me away to become EcoNews Coordinator for the next decade. I worked with hundreds of volunteers. Everybody had their own reasons for volunteering, but it was all aimed at preserving, protecting and enhancing the natural systems and beauty of this planet we share.
Even after leaving my NEC job to work for the new online environmental network, EcoNet, I still contributed stories and came to EcoNews paste-up sessions. Eventually I helped set up the first NEC website. I still help when I can, and I took what I learned as a volunteer, and working with volunteers at the NEC, into my own consulting business supporting the online efforts of environmental and sustainability organizations nearby and around the planet.
Volunteer work led me to a career that gives me a way to contribute to a better world. It also set me on a path to meet and work with so many people whose clarity and dedication guide their life choices and efforts. They are my heroes.