My Journey to Save The Bay

The security guy eyed me with suspicion as I entered the building. He studied me, trying to come up with a reason for my existence in the room.

“You here to see your parent?” he asked.

“Oh, yeah,” I lied.

“All right, then. Have a good day!”

I walked on and waited for the excruciatingly slow elevator. I had a job to get to, and there was no time to explain what the hell a 13 year old was doing volunteering as a Communications Fellow for an eminent grassroots organization working to protect and restore San Francisco Bay.

The Homeschool

That brings us to the following question: what, exactly, is a 13 year old doing interning for Save The Bay?

The story starts when at age 5, I told my parents I wanted to be homeschooled. Over a period of four years, I learned all I could from my parents, mentors, online classes, and books about math, science, English, history, geography, and the arts.

By the age of 9, I passed the California High School Proficiency Exam, giving me the equivalent of a high school diploma, and enrolled at Foothill College, a community college in Los Altos.

Environment, Environment, Environment

At that time, I had no idea what I wanted to major in. Then, in my second quarter at Foothill College, I came upon a passion for the environment.

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The aforementioned kid at Foothill College.

That quarter, I took E.S. 1, Introduction to Environmental Studies, at Foothill’s sister college De Anza and its renowned Kirsch Center. I walked in on the first day interested in the subject material, but never assuming the class would turn out to be anything but an intriguing diversion.

I walked out the last day a bona fide environmentalist, immensely passionate about renewable energy, conservation, and stopping pollution.

What happened in that class? To be honest, I don’t know.

All I knew was that our unsustainable practices were fast driving our environment into unholy chaos, and the very traits that got us into this mess in the first place – our pragmatism, awareness of the world, innovation, and remarkable ability to spur fellow humans into action – were the only forces that could stop this from occurring.

The tale of the tape is depressing. An ever-warming climate accelerated by feedback effects and increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Rising sea levels. Harsh droughts, heat waves, and wildfires. Superstorms. Ocean currents out of whack. And a political and economic climate with powerful incentives to maintain the status quo.

One thing is clear: After a disruption this monumental, life on Earth will enter a new age. However, based on everything we know about climate change, it’s almost certain that we won’t be part of this new era.

If we don’t clean up our act, and fast, Homo sapiens will soon cease to exist.

That’s why we have to save the environment.

We shouldn’t restore our wetlands because “it’s the right thing to do.” We should restore them because they protect shoreline communities from the impacts of rising sea levels.

We shouldn’t stop dumping toxic waste like cigarette butts, single-use plastics, and Styrofoam into our waterways because it saves the ducks. We should stop because it fouls the Bay’s water quality.

Every single one of us has to pitch in to ensure our species’ survival.

Yes, even me.

The Kid Pitches In

So I did. The summer after taking that environmental science course, I replaced 90 percent of all incandescent light bulbs in our house with LEDs or CFLs. I turned off our sprinkler system. I reduced our A/C consumption. Our house’s energy usage was halved, and our water bill reduced by about 20 percent. I even convinced my family to install rooftop solar. But there was only so much I could do at home. One house cannot solve climate change.

So I got involved in causes and decided to take action.

I collaborated with solar panel company SolarCity to produce a short video concerning the potential of solar power. The next year, I wrote a 15-page report about sustainable agriculture around the world for EnvrionmentCalifornia.

In winter 2016, I participated in the founding of the Sustainable Futures Club at Foothill College, a group dedicated to furthering environmental causes on campus through education and action.

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The Sustainable Futures Club in action.

In an effort to curb the amount of plastic consumption and pollution, we successfully launched a campus-wide movement to ban the sale of bottled water in campus bookstores, cafes, and vending machines.

Idealistic and full of courage, we stormed in to student government and presented our reasoning to have these single-use items bared form campus. At a follow-up meeting a week later, the Sustainable Futures Club’s plan almost unanimously won approval.

Encouraged by my success, I looked for a bigger cause to get involved in during the summer. I soon got an email from my professor Dr. Scott Lankford advising me to apply for Save The Bay’s fellowship program.

The Building of Hope                   

And here I am, working as a Communications Fellow at Save The Bay.

I don’t simply view this opportunity as something I have to do. I view it as a platform. A platform from which I can share my story, my passions, my personality, and channel it all for the greater good – for the restoration and protection of the Bay and for the very survival of our species.

Like many, I want to make a difference in my community and the world. Here at Save The Bay, I get the chance to do so.

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Me, having a blast at a decidedly non-ordinary job.

In this blog and across social media, inside this office, I get to promote important efforts to make the Bay a better place for all of us. I get to educate others and inspire them to take action to further a number of pressing causes. I get to be a part, albeit a small one, of the global effort to sustain the current state of life on Earth, Homo sapiens included.

And you can take part as well. Because while it may seem daunting, taking part in saving San Francisco Bay and the rest of the world’s natural resources and wild places doesn’t need to be an arduous task. I know firsthand that simplest actions have the biggest impact.

So take five minutes today to tell your friends and family about the great work Save The Bay is doing to ensure a clean and healthy Bay for future generations, and encourage them to stay up-to-date on the environmental issues impacting our region, our state, our nation, and our world. Vote for Prop 67 this November. Do whatever it takes to make sure your vision of a cleaner, greener Bay becomes a reality. Together, we’ll make the planet a better place for all species to live – and a place where we humans can thrive for just a bit longer.

From Fellows to Staff Members

Some of our staff started their journey with Save The Bay as participants in the Fellowship Program. Our organization benefits greatly from having support from our Fellows, and when a variety of factors fall into place, a few Fellows have been able to step into open positions on our staff. It’s a great feeling when we’ve gotten to know these individuals professionally and personally as Fellows, and then they have the opportunity to join the team for more long-term opportunities.  Read on for some inside perspective of what it’s been like to both be a Fellow and staff member at Save The Bay.

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Ethan Tucker is our newest addition to the staff, taking action as a Temporary Policy Associate with the Policy Team. He’s a native of Connecticut and has a great community of friends from school who have also relocated to the Bay Area.

Rachelle Cardona owns the longest title on staff as the Restoration Education and Community Engagement Specialist, acting as the organizer of all of our public and private Restoration Programs. A biologist at heart, she loves animals and has learned all about wetland plant species with ease.

Vivian Reed worked with us as a Fellow in 2012. Three years later, she returned to Save The Bay’s communications team as our Communications Assistant. Vivian now manages the same Facebook account that originally attracted her to the Fellowship.

How did you find out about the Save The Bay Fellowship Program?

Ethan: I first contacted Paul Kumar, Political Director at Save The Bay. I found him through the alumni directory at Wesleyan and knew I was interested in environmental policy. He told me about the environmental atmosphere in the Bay Area and the Fellowship program. He mentioned that Allison Chan, our Clean Bay Campaign Manager, needed a Fellow for her program, so I applied. I wanted to see what that world was like.

Rachelle: I had been looking for environmental causes to devote my time to while I was working, and my mom pointed me to Save The Bay. I signed up for a volunteer program at the nursery and after working with the plants, I was super fired up and asked the people leading the program, “Do you have any internship or volunteer opportunities?” Right at that time, they were switching between Fellowship sessions.

Vivian: I stumbled upon the Save The Bay Facebook page and Liked it, honestly, without giving it much thought. It wasn’t until one day when I saw their post saying, “Do you want to do environmental communications? If so, apply now!” I figured it would be a great opportunity for me to expand on my interest in environmental conservation and learn how to communicate solutions to the environmental problems we face, so I applied.

When were you a fellow for Save The Bay, and when did you join the staff?

Ethan: I was a Fellow from October 2015 until February 2016. I worked with the Policy department, helping Allison with her projects: Trash and stormwater, green infrastructure, advocating for local ordinances, and other research projects. It’s awesome, I only picked up coffee for people twice during my Fellowship. I’ve been employed since mid-February 2016. Save The Bay has been a really good experience for me. I definitely have a wider set of skills and capabilities than when I first walked in the door back in October.

Rachelle: The Fellowship really set me up for an easy transition into the positions I’ve been in. I was a Fellow from October 2013 to December 2013 and was able to stay on as a Temporary Restoration Project Specialist. In February 2014, a full-time position opened up and I was honored to fill the Restoration Education Specialist position. As a Fellow, I pushed hard in the field and delivered my best, and the Restoration Team took notice of the qualities I possessed, thinking they would be beneficial for the team. That was right out of college, too. I was expecting nothing to happen after Save The Bay and to have to make smoothies or do something not related to environmental work, so it was encouraging.

Vivian: I started in March 2012 and ended my stint in late August 2012 with the Communications department. My position started in January of last year.

As a volunteer in the office, what was your perspective on STB during your Fellowship?

Ethan: It was interesting to see the different aspects there are to running a non-profit and to be with an organization that’s doing so many different things with their work.

Rachelle: I thought Save The Bay was a really influential organization to work for. As a Fellow, when I said I had an internship style position at Save The Bay, people were amazed and really interested in the work that I was doing. People were really interested in what Save The Bay was spearheading as an organization, which is a longstanding effect of Save The Bay being an older, regional and impactful organization.

Vivian: Prior to volunteering with Save The Bay, I had no idea that San Francisco Bay almost ceased to exist. The story of how Save The Bay began still moves me today, as much as it did the first time I learned about it on day one. While we now think of them as pioneers, our founders were just ordinary people like you and me who simply wanted to solve a problem. I’ve always wanted to be aligned with an organization that makes a difference, and working here at Save The Bay fulfills my sense of purpose.

Our Fellows participate in a wide range of projects, activities, and experiences during their time with our organization. They help host volunteer programs at our wetland restoration sites, meet policy partners to move ideas into action, bond with staff on our annual events, and much more. Tell me about a memorable experience from your Fellowship session, and why it stands out.

Ethan: Two memorable experiences were the Fellowship planting day and all-staff planting day. They were great experiences, to be on the water and get the chance to interact with other staff members that I hadn’t normally interacted with on a day-to-day basis.

Rachelle: The going away party for our former Restoration Program Manager was memorable. I had been with Save The Bay for maybe a month, and in Habitat Restoration Team style, everyone on the team had to memorize the song and dance to “What Does the Fox Say?” and perform it in the bar we were in. I barely knew any of these people and it was slightly embarrassing, but it also showed the culture at Save The Bay: How friendly everyone is, and when it comes down to it, how goofy and fun loving we are. That was my first memorable experience having to do with the culture at Save The Bay.

Vivian: Outside of dancing in a mascot costume, I still remember the 20 minute presentation I gave to the staff about my contributions to Save The Bay. Not only was it great way to end my Fellowship experience and reflect on what I had learned in the course of 6 months, but I think it also demonstrated the value of having this organizational program.

What are some of your primary responsibilities or tasks?

Ethan: My daily tasks change a lot. I’ve been analyzing the annual trash reduction reports with an app and updating our supporters on the status of the Zero Trash, Zero Excuse campaign. In the last month, I’ve been helping advocate for the smoking ban in East Bay Regional Parks (EBRP). That has involved a lot of writing letters of support for the policy up for adoption, and doing outreach to other environmental groups, tobacco prevention groups, and the EBRP Board of Directors.

Rachelle: My primary responsibilities include coordination of all of our volunteer programs, corporate programs, education programs, public programs: all of the programs! With the education programs specifically, I’m also in charge of maintaining our curriculum. Most of the work around that is understanding the recent changes in scientific standards for California and how our program can fit that and support the teachers. I also manage a lot of the Salesforce database responsibilities for our team, keeping track of the volunteer data and supplying that info to other parts of our organization.

What drives you to do environmental work as your professional career?

Ethan: I’ve always loved the outdoors and nature, and protecting it is a big priority for me. It’s really important to protect the environment. I’m also interested in politics so I think it’s a great way to do something to make the world a little better.

Rachelle: Sharing knowledge, that’s the most exciting part about working with so many people. By coordinating their events, it’s an opportunity for us to spread knowledge in our region about the Bay, the threats facing it and what we can do to combat them. The hope that we can spread an environmental stewardship-based knowledge and drive within our region is really what keeps me going.

Vivian: When I grew up, the outdoors was a big part of my life.  As I got older, it became a place for me to relax and do what I enjoy most, which is going on hikes and landscape photography free of distraction. I’m always mindful that I can’t take what I enjoy doing for granted because it may go away.  That realization is what inspires me to work for an environmental organization.

Do you have any advice for future Fellows?

Ethan: It’s definitely worth doing! There have been a lot of opportunities to explore the different things I was interested in, to see the different aspects of STB’s work, and to dive in and get a lot of hands-on, deep experience. I’m happy to be here.

Rachelle: Treat your fellowship as one big long interview by continually working hard and putting forward your best work and best effort in everything you’re doing. In my doing that, it has definitely paid off. And volunteering, if you give your time and are passionate and devoted, there’s often times a next step to continue down that road. This is also a really good opportunity to get to see how an organization like this works.

Vivian: We want to make sure everyone gets the most out of their fellowship experience. I find that Fellows who are curious, open to learning new things, and take on unique projects get the most out of this program.  There’s a lot to learn at Save The Bay and a lot of room to grow professionally, but sometimes an experience like this can even set you up for a future you didn’t even predict.

Learn more about the Save The Bay Fellowship Program and apply here. 

From Bay to Poverty: Where I’ve Been Since Save The Bay

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Rochelle dressed as a Shark in honor of Shark Week. Photo taken by: Nathaniel Downes, SF Examiner

Rochelle Reuter was a Communications Fellow in 2014. Since then, she has been spending her days at St. Anthony’s providing essential services to San Franciscans living in poverty. 

To be honest, I never thought I would be working at a social service non-profit. I’ve always believed in equal services and resources for everyone but never had a solid understanding the vicious cycle that is poverty. Environmental Advocacy has been the pathway I’ve always anticipated taking but when an opportunity arose I figured, why not.

As the Communications Fellow at Save The Bay I was able to learn how nonprofits effectively communicate and engage their constituents with thought-provoking, and yes, sometimes goofy content. I gained valuable experience by putting my name on specific projects that allowed me to explore a range of skills from project management to problem solving. Since then, I’ve been able to take what I learned at Save The Bay and apply it directly to my position here at St. Anthony’s — a nonprofit that provides essential support programs to San Franciscans living in poverty.

Taken during the Grand Opening of the second building for St. Anthony’s and my third week with St. Anthony’s! This brand new building located at 121 Golden Gate Ave. now houses three of our direct service programs: The Dining Room, The Social Work Center and of course, the Free Clothing Program. Photo credit: Tara Luz Stevens
Taken during the Grand Opening of the second building for St. Anthony’s and my third week with St. Anthony’s! This brand new building located at 121 Golden Gate Ave. now houses three of our direct service programs: The Dining Room, The Social Work Center and of course, the Free Clothing Program. Photo credit: Tara Luz Stevens

Since joining the St. Anthony’s team here in 2014, I’ve actually held 3 different positions. I originally came to the organization as a Program Associate for one our direct service programs, the Free Clothing Program but within 6 months, I was promoted to Assistant Manager. In my role as the Assistant Manager, I was responsible for all Back of House operations, overseeing the volunteer program , facilitating and addressing all inventory issues, and also supervising all staff working in the Back of House. The soft skills I was able to obtain at Save The Bay ultimately allowed me to succeed in this role and help learn how to be a successful supervisor and a supportive co-worker.

As of February 2016, I’ve now moved departments within St. Anthony’s and now work as the Annual Giving Coordinator in our Development department. This role is more analytical and similar to what I’ve done at Save The Bay. Now, I’m able to work with a team of communication and fundraising experts to help develop specific appeals to donors that keep them engaged and informed.

Me and some of my co-workers enjoying our new merchandise from the big rebrand rollout event! In July 2015, St. Anthony’s launched a new brand for the organization that encompasses our foundation values and our new tagline, Hope Served Daily. Photo credit: Taylor Skillin
Me and some of my co-workers enjoying our new merchandise from the big rebrand rollout event! In July 2015, St. Anthony’s launched a new brand for the organization that encompasses our foundation values and our new tagline, Hope Served Daily. Photo credit: Taylor Skillin

While I have always envisioned working at an environmental nonprofit like Save The Bay, I’ve been so grateful for what St. Anthony’s has given me over the last 1.5 years. They’ve encouraged me to not only strengthen the skills I already had, they also encouraged me to work in different departments in order to get a well-rounded perspective on how a non-profit operates. My time at Save The Bay has truly been a gateway to my career in the nonprofit sector. Without my Save The Bay fellowship, my career path would look very different than how it’s come out.

Learn more about Save The Bay’s Fellowship Program here.