by Madison Peters
My time at the NEC began as a work study student at the beginning of my second year at HSU while pursuing my degree in Ecological Restoration. I joined in at a pretty busy time, too! It was August 2014 and everyone was very occupied with prepping for Coastal Cleanup Day. As a San Francisco/Bay Area transplant, I had participated in a few throughout my childhood and knew of the event, but never could I have imagined the scope or the amount of work that goes into creating such a wonderful event. Since it was a particularly busy time of year and I was a fresh, new work study student, I was mainly working on small office or event tasks like painting signs or stuffing envelopes for our annual membership survey. As I observed all of the hard work happening around me, I was given a new drive to aspire to be as passionate and enthusiastic as my coworkers. I fell in love with environmentalism and knew that I wanted to help educate people about ecological problems and solutions.
As I continued to work at the NEC I was excited to learn about the organization and its roots in the creation of the Coastal Cleanup Day. I couldn’t believe that the actions and ideas of a few could transform into an international event! This taught me to value the work of those around me and the importance of our work. Over the years my role at the NEC also grew from stuffing envelopes into assisting with and then finally coordinating the very event I was so inspired by. It was my first “big time” job and responsibility, and WOW was it really! As I was still going to school full time and working a second part time job, I quickly realized the importance of work/school/life balance. I learned some valuable life lessons and a lot about myself while at the NEC. I have been ecstatic to see what Coastal Cleanup Day has evolved into since my tenure as its coordinator for the NEC. I encourage everyone to participate in this year’s Zero Waste Coastal Cleanup Month that they are planning to help create a more accessible event during this pandemic and promote sustained activism.
Since leaving the NEC and graduating, my partner Shohei and I were very fortunate to be able to take some time to slow our lives down before we committed to forging our careers. We purchased and converted an old Brio Breadworks delivery van and turned it into our own tiny home on wheels! We and our cat, Frisca, all squeezed into our Lil’ Loaf Van and lived life on the road. We were primarily based out of Arcata since we needed income to maintain that lifestyle, but had the freedom to save money and travel as we wanted. We were even able to visit Shohei’s parents and family in Japan and explore his home country together. We ended up living in our Lil’ Loaf Van for an entire year, before moving from our beloved transplant home of Arcata to Olympia, Washington for Shohei to pursue his Masters in Environmental Studies. While we are no longer living in our Lil’ Loaf Van full time, we are still able to take it out for some fun weekend travel when we can get away.
After what seemed like a long and emotional search trying to find a job in Olympia, I happened upon two which eventually led me to my current position. I started working part time at the Puget Sound Estuarium as an Educator Lead for school field trips, teaching about the ecology and history of Puget Sound. The second was as a temp greeter for the LOTT WET Science Center, which is the main wastewater/sewage treatment center for Olympia, where I helped educate visitors about the process of wastewater treatment and the environmental hazards and benefits. Both of these wonderful part time jobs felt like a little step away from my hard earned degree in Ecological Restoration, but at the same time opened a new door for me into a passion I had explored at the NEC, environmental education. While being able to work at jobs where I loved what I was doing, I needed a more steady and full time position to be able to make ends meet. I felt like the job search in Olympia was never going to come to an end until I found a position at a place called the Hands On Children’s Museum (HOCM). I again struggled with the feeling like I was stepping away from the path that I had carefully cultivated at both HSU and the NEC. I was hired as a Visitor Engagement Coordinator and stepped on this new path helping to create and run programming following STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) education standards for the Museum. I was amazed at how much I loved it! I have always been a firm believer in art and science being intricately entwined and this was my first time being able to balance both through educating the public.
I am very grateful for my roles at the HOCM and am curious where this path along my garden of life will take me. I can look back down the path at where I’ve been and appreciate the growth and opportunities I have been granted. I am incredibly grateful for the NEC being a part of that journey.
Our current civil rights movement has also led me to explore and reflect upon the privileges and opportunities I have had and try to become a better ally and activist. This has also brought me to learn more about systemic racism/oppression and the need for more intersectionality in the environmental movement. I think of Arcata as a fairly progressive place, but we need to strive to do better for our communities that have been left out of the conversation. In order to save our planet we must also protect its people and remember that climate justice is social justice.