Forty-mile-an-hour winds couldn’t stop our determination or conviction. Though at times it felt like the crosswinds might knock us off of our bikes, every single one of us 52 Bike-a-thon riders successfully made our way from Railyard Park in downtown Santa Fe to Earth Care’s offices at Zona del Sol on the south side of town in celebration of Earth Day. The ride was 10 miles long on one of the windiest days of the year, and many of us, mostly teenagers, had never ridden our bikes for transit, let alone across the city. But it was worth it.
When you are doing something for a good cause, it’s easier to be willing to struggle. The world’s problems aren’t going to be fixed through comfort and ease; they are going to be fixed through hard work and sacrifice, and we’re going to have to realize that our comfort and ease are sometimes coming at the expense of animals, land and people. We can stand up and take action on the things we care about. That’s what I’ve learned in our leadership training at Earth Care Youth Allies, and that’s what I experienced through our Bike-a-thon.
The “cause” in our case was actually several causes. In January, after learning about global environmental and social-equity issues and completing training in leadership and social action, we decided to do a project that reduced our environmental footprint, called for action on climate change, and also raised awareness about the need to make sustainability and green resources available to all parts of the community, regardless of income.
“First and foremost, we wanted to do something about climate change and to be part of the solution. As young people, we feel like it’s our future at stake. So, solarizing our building, particularly in this part of town, is a huge success that proves that change can happen. This project was also about bringing sustainable resources—like alternative transportation, renewable energy and green living—to all Santa Feans,” said one of my fellow organizers, Josue Martínez.
With help from the renewable-energy advocacy group New Energy Economy, we won a grant through Positive Energy, a New Mexico solar company that sponsors an annual competition for nonprofits to win a solar system for their building. “Positive Energy Solar shares these youths’ vision for clean, affordable, solar energy for all New Mexicans,” said Regina Wheeler, Positive Energy’s CEO. “It is an honor for our company to participate in this community project and to showcase what’s possible for all of Santa Fe and other cities.”
We needed to raise the matching funds for the installation, so we came up with the idea of the Bike-a-thon. We did a lot of outreach to business sponsors and our families and friends. We got a lot of help in training and raising the funds from our mentors at Earth Care and from New Energy Economy’s staff. By April 26, we had the match, and the solar system had been installed, along with a computer that measures, in real time, the electricity provided by the sun, the carbon offset and the water the system saves. We put up an informational sign that explains the benefits of solar to community members, so everyone who comes to our offices can learn about it.
Our solar array will accomplish the following:
• Produce 4,152 kWh of electricity per year
• Save 25,000 gallons of water over 25 years
• Mitigate 89,200 pounds of CO2 over 25 years
The Bike-a-thon culminated with a community party that featured an art show and performances of poetry and songs we put together titled “Driven to Extinction,” about the things we stand to lose—animal species and land we love—if we don’t do anything about climate disruption. We enlisted Capital High, Ortiz Middle School and St. Michael’s High School students to help make a giant mural collage of animal species from around the world. Students from Santa Fe High and the New Mexico School for the Arts also contributed pieces. Over 80 people, including city councilors, came to share in our celebration of the solarization of one of the first community buildings on the south side of Santa Fe. Zona del Sol, our building, besides housing Earth Care, is home to all kinds of programs and services for children, youth and families.
Our take-away: It feels pretty good to actually do something instead of just stressing out or distracting yourself from the issues. If everyone in America took the time they spend watching TV and used it to do good for the environment or the community and paid attention to what our leaders are doing, I think we’d be able to solve the majority of the problems we face. If we did that and we were willing to go with a little less comfort and a little less ease, we might just be able to create the world we all wish for.
About Earth Care Youth Allies
Earth Care’s mission is to educate and engage youth to create healthy, just, and sustainable communities. Programs for children, youth and young adults include sustainability education, service learning, community organizing and social entrepreneurship. Earth Care’s Youth Allies are high school leaders who receive training and support as they execute community-improvement projects that benefit the environment and community members in need. They also serve as Youth Advisory Board members to the city of Santa Fe’s Sustainability Commission.
Valeria Gómez is an Earth Care Youth Allies member. For more information on Earth Care, visit www.earthcarenm.org