By: Tae Ganger, AmeriCorps Volunteer

The Appalachian Green Teachers Conference is an annual event and is geared towards providing resources for educators and nurturing relationships between like-minded people. These like-minded educators go beyond school teachers and naturalists—anyone actively looking for synergy with the planet is invited.

I attended this year’s conference as an AmeriCorps member serving with Rural Action’s Environmental Education program. It was awesome to see it come together through a network of local partners like Camp Oty’Okwa help. We decorated Burr Oak Lodge with gourds from the Chesterhill Produce Auction. Attendees loved the personalized name tags created by Amy Nicolai from Camp Oty’okwa. I got to spend time with familiar faces, make new friends, and learn from them all.

As a lover of outer space, naturally one of my favorite sessions involved astronomy with Tom O’Grady. He did an excellent job making stargazing approachable for someone like me, who only knows how to spot Orion’s Belt. He also seemed to have an endless well of knowledge about the history of astronomy. It turns out that Ohio has a lot of history with gazing up into space.

Although I have a lot of love for astronomy, I wondered how a stargazing workshop fit into a conference about the environment. O’Grady flawlessly connected the talk about constellations, eclipses, and history with human activity on the earth. Human life to this day is heavily impacted by what happens off the planet, from the moon’s involvement in clocks and calendars, to the sun providing us with life. Learning about astronomy keeps us connected with cycles humans have been connected to for centuries. Most importantly, it puts into perspective that Earth is our spaceship to take care of.

With guided hikes, shared meals, and campfire conversations, the time between sessions was social/emotional gold. There was so much opportunity to network and build community. Community provides the power and support for change to be implemented. It also provides hope as it reminds us how valuable the human experience is (as a human, this is biased). Everyone has more depth than how they present themselves.

Every teacher, naturalist, public sector employee and AmeriCorps service member is more than their job or career. Although it is wonderful to hear about the great work people are doing, it is also enriching to get to know someone personally. Some are parents inspired by visions of a good future for their children. Some are grappling with trying to do good in a world where it is not always profitable. Learning more about others reminds me how important it is to be connected with each other. Being part of a community reminds me how we’re in this together, and inspires me to do what I can to help improve what we’re working with.

Whether it is shelter, food or medicine, there is a separateness between humans and nature that we ought to mend. Carrie had us read an Iroquois giving of thanks which served as a reminder that this separateness is an illusion. The health of the environment directly affects human health.

I left the conference feeling inspired to nourish my relationship with people and the planet. Being around a community that feels similarly gave me a sense of strength. However daunting a challenge it is to change how we operate as a species, it feels infinitely more possible to change the status quo, it feels infinitely more possible when we fill each other’s cup with passion and hope. It’s kind of like providing each other with an important, and very human, renewable resource.