Local groups respond to call to care for creation

Earth Day is celebrated on April 22 around the world, mobilizing and educating the global community around environmental issues. For Catholics, care for the environment has a moral and spiritual dimension as the faithful are called to be good stewards of their God-given home and to protect the poor who are most effected by environmental degradation.

In his encyclical Laudato Si’, Pope Francis challenges the people, “Care for nature is part of a lifestyle which includes the capacity for living together and communion…We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.”

A student from St. Mary Magdalen Catholic School in Altamonte Springs and a new community garden at the Hope CommUnity Center in Apopka offers just two examples of how the faithful in the Diocese of Orlando are responding to that call.

Sixth grader thinks globally, acts locally to help environment

While most 12-year-olds are playing video games and focused on friends or sports, Michael, a sixth grader at St. Mary Magdalen Catholic School has found his calling in helping the environment.

Michael is taking the approach of thinking globally and acting locally by starting a recycling project at his school this past year followed by an Eco Club to manage the cost of the program.

“I’ve always wanted to help out the community every way I can,” said Michael. “With everything getting hotter, we’re slowly starting to destroy the Earth. It’s important to prevent that from happening.”

Michael is not only helping protect the Earth through his program, which recycles lunch trays, plastic, paper, aluminum and cardboard but is also saving the school $100 on a weekly basis.

Milagros Morales, the vice principal at St. Mary Magdalen, said Michael is a tremendous leader and has helped the school learn how to recycle.

“We have learned how to reduce waste in the lunch room and around campus, how to be friendlier to the Earth and more mindful of how wasteful we are,” Morales said. “He is a role model for his peers and a great leader in showing them how to help the Earth at school and at home. He has brought awareness not only to the students but the teachers as well.”

During Earth Week April 24-28, the week-long activities kick off on Monday with a presenter from Seminole County Greenways and National Lands, who will share how to preserve nature and appreciate the environment. Trash Free Tuesday follows when students will be encouraged to bring reusable containers for a zero-waste lunch along with new recycling signs that will be posted in the cafeteria. On Wednesday, posters will encourage parents to turn off their cars instead of idling in the pick-up line, and eighth graders will lead Triple R Thursday when they explain how to reduce, reuse and recycle. On Friday, the winner of the best environmental poster will be announced, and students will bring in their checklists of all their eco-friendly accomplishments.

Michael was one of 340 young leaders across the country who was awarded a $500 Disney Summer of Service grant through Youth Service America. The grant supported the new Eco Club he started that addresses the need for greater environmental awareness and action among youth.

“The Eco Club gives students the opportunity to talk about how to care for the Earth that Jesus gave us,” Morales said.

Garden helps a community return to their roots

Artwork depicting food, plants and cultural symbols adorn a 1,000-square-foot lot that will soon be a garden where the community can come together to grow vegetables and share traditions and hopes for a healthy world.

The Hope CommUnity Center in Apopka is partnering with the Farmworker Association of Florida on this community building project.

Sister of Notre Dame de Namur Ann Kendrick with the CommUnity Center said the two groups are sister organizations that have grown together with a close collaboration.

“The immigrant and farm-working community we serve have their roots in agriculture, in working the land, in protecting and nurturing the land,” Sister Kendrick said. “Together people from our low-income communities of color will develop this community farm and grow medicinal herbs and healthy foods in safe and environmentally friendly ways to feed their own families using the land available at our Hawthorne campus.”

Becky Wilson, an AmeriCorps Vista volunteer with the Farmworker’s Association, said the project came about due to a disconnect with the land and a lack of access to foods which are healthy and culturally appropriate. Displaced farmers will participate in the project, which will be an example of how to grow food without pesticides.

“This gives people a chance to grow food using their ancestral practices and pass that along to their children, which is important to connect them with that kind of knowledge,” Wilson said.

This is the fourth Campesinos garden, a Latin American word meaning farm workers, in the state of Florida. It has been two years since its inception and it is because of the partnership with the Hope CommUnity Center that the project will finally come to fruition because of its land that will be used to make it reality. The center is a service learning community dedicated to the empowerment of Central Florida’s immigrant and working poor communities through education, advocacy and spiritual growth.

The project’s next step involves installing an irrigation system and then building raised beds to house the vegetables, which are expected to be planted by mid-May.

Wilson said they have held several meetings to talk about what the community would like to see planted and to talk about the specifics of an agroecology garden, where produce such as lettuce, tomatoes, fruit trees and culturally-diverse vegetables such has jicama and other root vegetables will grow.

“An agroecology garden is agriculture that values the earth, the people who work the land, and the abundance of foods she (Mother Earth) can create,” Wilson said.

The project, which is funded in part by the Kellogg Foundation, also will serve as a way for people from different parts of the Caribbean and Latin America to connect with each other to discuss herbal remedies and share different ways they prepare their vegetables.

“I think having a space to practice their ancestral practices and pass that along to their children and connecting with other people and sharing their traditions is important,” Wilson said.