One of the most important days for an environmentalist occurs later this month: Earth Day. Growing up, I always had a close connection to nature. My family came from the Midwest where farming and gardening were always important. I was fortunate enough to travel to Minnesota every summer where I’d spend long days and short nights on East Battle Lake enjoying the fruits of my labors – gardening and fishing. Gardening skills were taught young and allowed me to enjoy tomatoes, squash, and other juicy vegetables at each meal. We would spend hours out on the lake hoping for a bite so we could catch fish to bring home to my grandma so she could cook them for dinner. Because my father worked on his family’s farm growing up, he always made sure we were taught and shown where our table food came from. As I got older, he taught me what Earth Day was and the importance of taking care of our planet. Because I grew enjoying freshly harvested food, I developed a deep respect for and a close relationship with our planet, Earth Day has always been a special day to me.
On April 22nd, I would wake up for school knowing I would participate in something special. I remember one year in particular when my classroom gathered around a tree we recently planted. Each of my friends stood in amazement as we learned about the benefits this one little tree would provide to us and the students who came after us. After school, I went home and stood in the garden my father planted for our family and gave thanks for what the Earth was providing for us.
As I got older, I learned what an environmentalist was. I realized I had always assumed everyone was an environmentalist! The realization that not everyone loved the Earth the way I did was a startling one for me. Then, during my junior year of high school, I learned about climate change and its impacts on our precious planet and knew almost instantly that this is what I would dedicate my life to. I wrote every research paper on the subject and worked hard to educate my classmates on the problems it was creating in our community.
Environmentalism continued to influence my life in college as I chose my major. Although I didn’t fully understand what “Sustainability” meant as a major, I saw the key words “climate change” and knew this was my future.
Six years and a master’s degree later, I’ve continued to dedicate my life to our environment. Working at Restore America’s Estuaries (RAE) has allowed me to live Earth Day every day. As a fundraiser, I have the opportunity to raise money for an organization with a mission that I connect with so strongly with and makes my job so enjoyable.
When I first started working at RAE a year and a half ago, I was so overwhelmed by the work of the organization. How could such a small organization make such a large impact across the country? Between Living Shorelines, Blue Carbon, restoration projects all around the country, National Estuaries Week (which coordinates hundreds of events all around the country), a 1,300 person, six-day Summit, and our new Southern New England Program, I was amazed that a staff of less than ten could make such a big difference.
Every day I fundraise at work, I know that the money that I’m raising is going to make real changes for our country’s estuaries and coastal environments. We don’t just plant one tree in a school yard once a year. We plant thousands of plants around our coasts, we work with communities to plan beach cleanups, we work to recycle oyster shells so we can rebuild oyster reefs in our estuaries, we advocate for sound coastal policy, we bring stakeholders together to share information and best practices, and so much more. At RAE, every day is Earth Day, and I feel fortunate to work and support an organization whose mission is near and dear to my heart.
From catching sunfish in northern Minnesota, to planting a tree, to learning about climate change, to now working to help our coasts adapt and be resilient in face of a changing climate, my passion for the environment has been a consistent thread weaving through my journey. I feel lucky to do the work I get to do and encourage you all to reflect on Earth Day and find a way to get involved in your own communities to take care of our one precious Earth.
Courtney Lewis is senior development manager at Restore America’s Estuaries.