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'Fashion Show of Ga-Baaa-Ge'

Twelve-year-old Danny Kiniry had a wardrobe malfunction before the St. Monica-St. Michael School “Fashion Show of Ga-Baaa-Ge,” an event that was supposed to sound fancy even though models were wearing outfits created from recycled materials.
 
The sixth grader’s stovepipe hat lost its bubble-wrap top, but he made do with the microwave dinner dish and recycled paper bottom that sufficed for a fedora. The hat complemented his bubble wrap suit jacket with straw fasteners, recycled construction paper satchel and yogurt-cup headphones.
 
He showed off the outfit as he walked down the “runway” lined with white plastic gallon jug “lights” and green sparkle toile cloth.
 
Classmates Cole Young and Alex Keane, both 12, helped created the recycled fashion statement.
 
“This was fun. You get to show off all the stuff you made,” Danny said.
 
But it was more than fun.
 
The fashion show was part of the Barre Catholic school’s celebration of the Year of Creation in the Diocese of Burlington.
 
“This is a way to show we care for the Earth,” said Mariah, 12, a seventh grader who declined to give her last name. She modeled a prom dress made of newspaper fans by her friend, Autumn Lewis, 13, another seventh grader.
 
“It came out pretty good,” Mariah said. “It was cool to watch her work on it. She’s very artistic.”
 
Autumn too reflected on the meaning of the fashion show highlighting creations made of recycled goods: “God wants us to take care of everything He created.”
 
Added Mariah, “The Earth a gift to us so we have to take care of it.”
 
Spanish teacher Edda Concessi coordinated the event for the students in preschool through grade eight. “Pope Francis asks, ‘What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?’ His answer? ‘It’s up to us.’”
 
She said at St. Monica-St. Michael School caring for the environment is a moral obligation and therefore part of the children’s education.
 
All of the children participated in the fashion show either by modeling fashions made of recyclables, designing the fashions or describing the fashions to the audience of students and family members in the school gym.
 
The fashion show included children wearing hats made of coffee filters and fruit cups and dresses and skirts made of newspapers and bedecked as princesses, pirates, knights, superheroes, a rapper and animals.
 
Other materials included cardboard, plastic grocery bags, bottle caps, fabric, old jeans and paper towel rolls.
 
St. Monica-St. Michael Principal Brenda Buzzell said the fashion show project was a way to show children how to look at what they discard in a different way. “We’re not just telling them to reuse, they are experiencing reuse.”
 
And in the Year of Creation, that is a particularly important lesson. “It’s really our job to leave the Earth better than we found it,” she said. “God gave us the Earth, and by taking care of it and making it better, we are honoring Him. It’s all about taking care of our gifts from God.”
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Every day is Earth Day at Bishop Marshall School

Earth Day 2017 will be observed throughout the world on April 22, but for the students, faculty and staff at The Bishop John A. Marshall School in Morrisville, every school day is Earth Day.
 
That’s because they have taken seriously their responsibility to care for the Earth and have, over the past couple of years, significantly increased their reduce, reuse and recycle efforts and added composting to their mix of care-of-the-Earth endeavors.
 
Two years ago Bishop Marshall School conducted its first trash audit. “We safely sorted and weighed the cafeteria and kitchen trash as well as trash from three classrooms, separating food scraps, trash, compost items and recyclables. As you can imagine, this task was not fun, but it was necessary,” commented Heather Gentle, food services director.
 
Only 1 percent of what was thrown away was recycled; nothing was composted.
 
“It was time for a new plan for the 2015-16 school year,” Gentle said. So with the help of the fifth-grade class, the school joined the Teens Reaching Youth Team through the 4-H Teen and Leadership Program and the Lamoille Regional Solid
Waste Management District.
 
Now all classrooms have compost and recycle bins and smaller trash baskets, and students are instructed in separating waste into compost, recycle and trash; older students help younger ones sort in the lunchroom.
 
The fourth and fifth graders take turns collecting the classroom compost bins and empty them into the main compost. They then rinse them and return them to classrooms.
 
Fifth grader Augustine Wright, 10, said it can be unpleasant to scrape food out of the compost bin with his gloved hand, but he does it “because I’m helping the environment.”
 
The school no longer provides straws because they are a single use item that remains in the landfill and no longer sells plastic water bottles, thanks to a donation of two water fountains that fill reusable water bottles. Cafeteria trays are disposable and compostable.
 
All of these efforts would not be successful without “the complete cooperation of teachers and students,” said Carrie Wilson, head of school for the 137-student prekindergarten through grade eight school.
 
No audit has been done this year, but she said the school is “in a position” to rent only one of its two dumpsters for trash. “I want to give the project two years to be sure we have sustainable results.”
 
She said the new ways of disposing of waste are easy to implement; it just takes “retraining your brain” to sort rather than dump everything in the rubbish. “We’re trying to instill [in students] that habit of mindfulness.”
 
“This is something we want to be part of to help the environment be healthier,” said Maddy Ziminsky, 13, a seventh grader. “Sometimes we teach our parents and can influence them to make good decisions” about composting and recycling.
 
As part of their religion and technology classes, seventh and eighth graders will be creating an Earth Day video to show what the school has done to promote care of the Earth and to serve as a guide for others. It will be available on the school website and at vermontcatholic.org.
 
“We are charged to be good stewards of the environment,” Wilson said. “We want to send our children into the world with a strong faith foundation to be good citizens and to take care of the world.”
 
Earth Day, celebrated in more than 193 countries, is observed annually on April 22 to demonstrate and promote environmental awareness and call for the protection of the Earth. 

This story was published originally in the spring issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
 
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Composting at diocesan headquarters

Employees of the Diocese of Burlington have been pitching in to reduce the amount of trash sent to Vermont’s only landfill by recycling, and now staff at the Joy Drive diocesan headquarters in South Burlington is separating compostables from trash there.
 
Instead of putting apple cores, banana peels, pizza crusts and other food waste into the trash, it all goes into compost barrels that will be picked up and used for compost. Used paper towels, paper napkins and uncoated paper cups and plates are also dropped into composting receptacles.
 
The beefed up trash reduction effort began in January in the building that houses the chancery and such offices as those for evangelization and catechesis, safe environments, worship, communications, human resources, vocations and youth and young adult ministry.
 
In “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis quotes St. John Paul II’s “Centesimus Annus,” saying, "Every effort to protect and improve our world entails profound changes in 'lifestyles, models of production and consumption, and the established structures of power which today govern societies.'"
 
“Learning about waste reduction and putting what we learn into practice here at 55 Joy Drive is one small way to put effort into these changes,” said Stephanie Clary, mission outreach and communication coordinator for the Diocese of Burlington. “Managing materials in this way is how we best cooperate with natural processes of decomposition and regeneration and, therefore, respect patterns inscribed in creation by the Creator—it is a miraculous design!”
 
Before the effort began, Michele Morris, assistant waste reduction manager and business outreach coordinator for Chittenden Solid Waste District in Williston, gave a presentation to employees about reducing, reusing and recycling, with a special emphasis on separating items from the trash that can be composted.
 
The diocese is partnering with the solid waste district to reduce, reuse and recycle during the Year of Creation called for by Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne.
 
“The best way to start is education,” said Steve Ticehurst, director of maintenance at the Joy Drive office building. “What can we do to help reduce our [carbon] footprint and green up our building and save our planet?”
 
Morris had some answers.
 
Sending trash to the Coventry landfill is costly – not just to put it there but to truck it there. For example, more than 48,000 gallons of diesel fuel are used a year taking trash there from Chittenden County.
 
She suggested that reducing trash begins with reducing acquiring. “Identify needs versus wants,” she said.
 
Other ways of reducing the amount of things brought into the home include buying in bulk and repackaging and instead of buying items for gifts, give gifts of time, experiences and connections.
 
Reuse options are limitless, Morris said. All it takes is some creativity to make a trivet out of wine corks or tote bags out of plastic grocery bags.
 
In discussing recycling, she said it is important to know what can and cannot be recycled and to ensure what is recycled is clean.
 
Her presentation emphasized the importance of getting food scraps out of trash by having better strategies for purchasing and storing food so it is not wasted and by donating excess food to people in need. Some food can be given to farmers for animal feed.
 
Food that gets into the landfill creates harmful methane gas and leachate -- water that has percolated through a solid and leached out some of the constituents.
 
Removing food from trash can save money. For example, Morris noted that fees facilities charge to dump trash are about $129 per ton while it costs $45 a ton for food scraps and $21 a ton for recycling. “When you look at the comparison, there’s no comparison,” she said.
 
Ticehurst said he would be collecting information on cost savings for the diocese as the trash reduction program gets underway.
 
In addition, staff at other diocesan buildings are learning about/preparing to better manage the disposal of their materials.
 
“We have been encouraged by so many of the wonderful initiatives, organizations and people in Vermont who are committed to living sustainably,” Clary said. “Our hope is to join and support those efforts as we learn about and begin practicing specific, attainable strategies to care for our common home and all those with which it is shared.”
 
“There is a nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions, and it is wonderful how education can bring about real changes in lifestyle. Education in environmental responsibility can encourage ways of acting which directly and significantly affect the world around us,” Pope Francis said in his encyclical. These efforts “reflect a generous and worthy creativity which brings out the best in human beings. Reusing something instead of immediately discarding it, when done for the right reasons, can be an act of love which expresses our own dignity.”

Originally published in the 2017 spring issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
 
 

Pro-growth and pro-environment

President Donald J. Trump issued an Executive Order on March 28, 2017 that rescinds and weakens numerous environmental protections, and effectively dismantles the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the national program designed to reduce carbon emissions from power plants by 32% in relation to 2015 levels by the year 2030. Fossil fuel-fired power plants are the largest pollution emitting sector, making up just under one-third of U.S. total greenhouse gas emissions. 

"The USCCB, in unity with Pope Francis, strongly supports environmental stewardship and has called consistently for 'our own country to curtail carbon emissions,'" said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, in response to the order. "This Executive Order places a number of environmental protections in jeopardy and moves the U.S. away from a national carbon standard, all without adopting a sufficient plan for ensuring proper care for people and creation. Yesterday's action means that, sadly, the United States is unlikely to meet its domestic and international mitigation goals." 

The USCCB has voiced support for a national carbon emission standard in recent years, though the Church does not privilege one set of technical, economic, or political approaches over another.  Bishop Dewane stresses that, although the CPP is not the only possible mechanism for reducing carbon emissions, the lack of a current viable alternative is a serious concern.    

"The EPA Administrator has repeatedly stated that policies must be pro-growth and pro-environment.  An integral approach can respect human and natural concerns and still achieve these aims, if properly done.  Many states have already made great progress toward carbon mitigation goals under the CPP, and this momentum ought to be encouraged and not hindered. Pope Francis' encyclical, Laudato si', focuses on both the 'the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.'  With this recent order, the Administration risks damage to our air, our waters and, most importantly, our people, particularly the poor and vulnerable, without proposing a concrete and adequate approach to meet our stewardship obligations as a nation."
  • Published in Nation

Live "Laudato Si'" this Lent

Fast. Give. Pray.


Fast
 
…from meat. Learn about connections between meat consumption and ecological justice at Fast for Climate Justice: Global Catholic Climate Movement.
 
…from carbon by making responsible lifestyle choices. Instead of driving alone, join or organize a carpool. Have an energy-efficiency audit done on your home and follow through with suggestions. Explore renewable energy opportunities for your home or workplace. Try to reduce your overall use and consumption of goods.
 
…from plastic. While much plastic is recyclable, producing plastic requires use of crude oils, which depletes the Earth of natural resources. Instead, opt for glass, metal, ceramic, wooden or clay re-useable replacements.
 
…from waste. Even if it’s just for one day or one meal, attempt a zero-waste lifestyle. (Holy Family-St. Lawrence Parish in Essex Junction hosts two zero-waste events each year!)
 
 
Give
 
…to local farmers and artisans buy purchasing their products instead of purchasing from big businesses, which require excess packaging materials and fossil fuels for shipping and often don’t observe Fairtrade practices.
 
…to a community garden (or organize planting one) to help address local hunger.
 
…to local, state and national parks to help protect God’s creation and provide areas to behold natural beauty.
 
…time to learn about living more ecologically and socially conscious, then put what you learn into practice.
 
…togetherness. Shop for, prepare and eat a family meal together, instead of purchasing fast food or ready-made meals, which require excessive, single-use packaging.
 
 
 Pray
 
…for ecological justice, that we may return to right relationship with all creation.
 
…for the grace to grow in virtue, which helps us to make more ecologically and socially conscious decisions.
 
…for the vulnerable, especially those affected by disease and severe weather due to climate change.
 
…for the Church, that it may use its prophetic voice to encourage action for ecological justice.
 
…in thanksgiving for food; for those who grow, raise, prepare, transport and distribute it; and for healthy and clean soil, water, air and environments required for its growth.
 
…in praise for something beautiful that inspires wonder and awe.


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Originally published in the 2017 spring issue of Vermont Catholic Magazine.
 

Inequality of basic needs

Pope Francis noted in “Laudato Si’” how environmental degradation has a disproportionate adverse impact on the impoverished of the world.
 
That is quite easy to see in the developing world. However, it is a little more subtle here in the United States and in the rest of the industrialized West.
 
Take the city of Flint, Mich., and its crisis of lead in the city water. By every measure, this community is a poor and primarily minority population. Unemployment in Flint runs about 1 percent above the national rate. More than 40 percent of the population lives in poverty. In 2015 the median household income was under $25,000 -- less than half of the national median household income. Less than 83 percent of its residents are high school graduates and only 11.2 percent are college graduates.
 
The combination of population characteristics in Flint is often associated with a relatively powerless population.
 
In contrast, more than 91 percent of Vermont residents are high school graduates and more than 40 percent have higher levels of education.
 
Flint has been in the news because of its water problems.
 
Prevention of lead poisoning has long been an essential aspect of running public water systems.
 
Lead poisoning was recognized in ancient Roman and Greek times; it was known to be toxic to the human body and to have an adverse effect on the human mind.
Without rehashing all the details from Flint, changes made to the water system resulted in lead being leached from antiquated lead pipes.
 
The process lacked due diligence for the safety of the residents. There was also a failure by public officials to alert the community to the hazard after the problem was recognized. Delays in remediation and communication of the hazard were costly to the health of many children.
 
A child’s brain is particularly vulnerable to the effects of lead poisoning; lead poisoning results in reduced intellectual and emotional growth along with behavioral problems. Those health and social problems will continue impose burdens on these impoverished families and society for decades to come.
 
Flint’s poverty clearly played a role in this tragedy. City officials, perhaps operating in very good faith, saw an opportunity to reduce the cost of its water system and moved to take advantage of the savings without having done a sufficiently thorough engineering analysis that would have identified the potential problems and prevented the disastrous consequences. A more prosperous city might not have seen the need to take the risk or revamping the water system.
 
This is but one example of lead or other toxic chemicals in the drinking water, the air or the soil in less-affluent communities in the United States. Lead has been ubiquitous in paint on the walls of older housing stock in poor communities. Lead can even be carried in dust and transported by wind. The consequences of these hazards fall on the impoverished residents of those communities. According to a report from Reuters News Service, high levels of blood lead in children have recently been identified in nearly 3,000 other U.S. locations, including large cities and small towns.1
 
In Vermont, the chemical PFOA2 has migrated in ground water to North Bennington from a manufacturing plant in Hoosick Falls, N.Y. PFOA is suspected of causing cancer. Vermont officials and company officials have endeavored to respond appropriately to the needs of local residents, but in this situation it is hard to predict what the final economic and health burdens for residents will be.3 These burdens are worse for the poor since limited financial resources limit options to remedy a problem.
 
The moral imperative is clear. Health effects of hazardous materials must be properly and pro-actively addressed by public officials and private sector decision makers. There can be no excuse for exposing human beings to risk of significant harm, whether by overt action or by failure to act. With deteriorating infrastructure and increased budgetary pressures, I fear the problem may even get worse. The effects will disproportionately harm the impoverished and the voiceless.
 
 
Footnotes:
1 www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa- lead-testing/
2 PFOA: Perfluorooctanoic acid, a chemical used in producing Teflon.
3 www.nytimes.com/2016/03/15/nyregion/vermont-town- is-latest- to-face- pfoa-tainted- water-scare.html?_r=0


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Originally published in the 2017 spring issue of Vermont Catholic Magazine.
 

Dr. Carolyn Woo to speak in Vermont

A former head of Catholic Relief Services will be in Vermont in September to speak at a Year of Creation conference, the signature event of the Diocese of Burlington’s yearlong, statewide, intentional focus on embracing the message of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical letter, “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home.”
 
Dr. Carolyn Woo, who from 2012-2016 was president and CEO of the U.S. Church's international humanitarian agency based in Baltimore, will present a personal look at the encyclical she helped Pope Francis present in Rome, at environmental degradation and its effect on the poor and at measures to minimize further environmental harm from carbon emissions and remediate damage already done.
 
In a telephone interview from her home in South Bend, Ind., Woo gave examples of how CRS staff “works face to face every day with the effects of climate warming.” These include working with farmers whose livelihood is negatively impacted by erratic rainfall, which causes problems like drought on one extreme and soil erosion from deluges of rain on the other.
 
She spoke of people who rely on fishing as a livelihood put out of work when a lake dries up and devastation to farmers when crops wither and die. Rises in sea level or storms decimate homes and livelihoods.
 
“At CRS, we have been working for years with the consequences of climate change and also the erratic behavior of weather,” Woo said. “We know that reality through experience.”
 
Catholic Relief Services was founded in 1943 by the Catholic bishops of the United States to serve World War II survivors in Europe. Since then, it has expanded to reach more than 100 million people in 101 countries on five continents.
 
Its mission is to assist impoverished and disadvantaged people overseas, working in the spirit of Catholic social teaching to promote the sacredness of human life and the dignity of the human person. Although that mission is rooted in the Catholic faith, CRS operations serve people based solely on need, regardless of their race, religion or ethnicity. In the United States, CRS engages Catholics to live their faith in solidarity with the poor and suffering people of the world.
 
Woo – who grew up in Hong Kong -- encourages dialogue with persons who consider global warming a hoax, and she encourages them to encounter situations that exemplify the severity of the situation caused by global warming. “We have to walk in their shoes to see what drives their thinking,” she said. “They have probably experienced certain types of framing that suggests all the evidence is false.”
 
Various measures to limit the harmful effects of global warming on the poor have had some success, such as preparing coastal communities for storms to reduce the risk of loss of life and property. These include building homes in safer locations, building sturdier homes, preplanning community responses and mobilizing local and government groups.
 
She offered three key messages about the environment:
 
+ The environment is God’s gift to humankind and is meant for everyone.
 
+ There must be responsibility and action on behalf of this gift so that it is cherished and nourished for everyone.
 
+ There must be dialogue with people who don’t believe climate change is happening, that it damages the Earth and human-made actions affect it.
 
For details on the conference at which she will speak, check vermontcatholic.org/yearofcreation. The conference will be open to people of all faiths.


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Originally published in the 2017 spring issue of Vermont Catholic Magazine.

Energy efficiency at Mount St. Joseph Academy

Mount St. Joseph Academy in Rutland is becoming more energy efficient, and that effort has gotten a boost from two bequests.
 
The bequests from alumni total more than $200,000.
 
“MSJ is looking to become more energy efficient. We have zeroed in on improving our heat efficiency by purchasing temperature controls, in particular for our gym,” explained Principal Sarah Fortier.
 
In addition, new doors for the gym that will not allow heat to escape will be purchased and heat loss because of large windows will be addressed.
 
The school will have an energy audit to help determine other areas of concern.
 
Mount St. Joseph Academy has been focused on energy efficiency for the past year.
 
“I am focused on preserving energy because how we treat our environment now will affect the children of the future,” said Fortier, who has been principal since 2014.
 
She mentioned a quote displayed in the school that states, "We did not inherit the Earth from our ancestors. We borrowed it from our children."
 
“I don't think a truer statement could be made. We need to make these changes so that the future is preserved environmentally for the generations to come,” she commented.
 
She said it is time for the school to make environmentally friendly changes. “There is no need to waste fuel for example. Fuel is a natural resource. As Catholics we believe in preserving the environment. Making changes to the building that will help do just that is not only providing a positive example to our students but it is also practicing our Catholic faith,” she said.
 
Through the energy-saving measures, the school has been “substantially cutting down on fuel costs,” Fortier said. “It is about more than saving money. It is about practicing our Catholic ideals. We are called to take care of the Earth. Making changes to the building that help us to do this shows that we care about the future.”
 
 
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