Signs of Sustainability

We have a long way to go, but we're making progress. Here are some signs that we are moving towards sustainability.

October 20, 2014

Making Connections: Sharing Rides, Sustainability and Successful Students

Tompkins Weekly 10-20-14

By Sophie Somerfeldt

Many of us remember that mix of feelings as fresh fall breezes and turning leaves usher in a new school year. To help make the year a successful one for students and their communities, several local partners are making new inroads around transportation, and you can play a part, too.

Transportation is something you might not think abut unless the lack of it stands between you and an appointment, a job, or an opportunity at school.

The importance of participation in school-based extra-curricular activities to students’ overall success is hard to overstate. Kids are kept engaged and safe during high-risk after-school hours. Moreover, research—and our experience—has shown that students who participate in school-based activities such as sports, drama or other co-curricular involvement, are more successful academically. They have an opportunity to reinforce school skills, connect with other successful students, and strengthen their sense of belonging to the school community.

Yet many of the very students most in need of the benefits of extra-curricular engagement face transportation barriers to participation: those who are unable to walk or bike to or from school, and whose families lack the financial and time resources to provide such transportation. School early/late bus limitations can leave some students without transportation to an activity, or with a significant walk home, often on dark streets without sidewalks.

Transportation access can have far-reaching impacts on a student’s success. For example, the Boynton School Transportation Liaison helped create an elaborate transportation plan for one student who could not otherwise participate in musical practices before and after school. Despite time-consuming transportation and rehearsals, the student’s grades immediately went up and remained higher during the period of her participation in the musical.

Later, this student landed the lead part in her new school in Newfield. A combination of transportation strategies helped bring about school engagement and success that may have eluded this young student, potentially affecting her entire life trajectory.

One solution to transportation barriers among students and others can be found all around us: other drivers. Ironically, the number of cars and drivers on the road is so high, it causes its own problems: the high costs of roads, greenhouse gas emissions, local air pollution, and slow or stopped traffic due to congestion, which only makes matters worse. The low-cost, do-it-ourselves solution of sharing more rides helps solve both problems at once.

The School Success Transportation Coalition (SSTC) is a local working group that helps support our students and communities by working to eliminate lack of transportation as a barrier to success. This fall, we rolled out a new ridesharing initiative to help all students interested in participating in before- or after-school activities. We are distributing a Ridesharing Guide created by Way2Go of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County to and through school coaches, drama directors and other activity leaders. The Guide encourages each activity group to designate a parent/caregiver volunteer Rideshare Coordinator, offers guidance and support to that volunteer, and allow families open to sharing rides to sign up. We are already seeing more families share rides and more students free to join their peers as engaged students.

A volunteer Ridesharing Coordinator can play a pivotal role in helping families consider sharing rides with others who live nearby, or whose kids share an activity, but who they may not yet know. For support for ridesharing in any school—or any setting—contact Sophie Somerfeldt at Way2Go, at 607-272-2292 or

When a shared ride isn’t found, TCAT bus passes are also available for students who can use TCAT to get to or from a school activity. When budget cuts eliminated funding to continue last year’s ICSD successful pilot bus pass program, the SSTC stepped in to help it continue in a streamlined form. TCAT has generously donated up to $2,000 worth of youth passes for eligible students. The Fine Arts Booster club has contributed another $500 for student passes, and fundraising continues. To learn more or get involved with the SSTC, see .

Like many habits, our transportation habits can shift if we make many small tweaks over time. And precisely when many of us feel squeezed for resources and time, we can reach out to our neighbors, family and (new) friends to find more of both. By making and strengthening ties that go beyond our familiar circles, we can build the kind of community that will help us all succeed, now, and in the years to come.

Sophie Somerfeldt is Way2Go Educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County.

October 13, 2014

Healthcare: Discovering our way to well-being

Tompkins Weekly 10-13-14

By Eric Clay

For Stu, it was the moment he realized how much he depended on the letter carrier and the cashier at the nearby convenience store. These nearly unknown neighbors had his back. They noticed when he was not healthy or sounding confused and encouraged him to go to the doctor or take better care of himself. Stu did not like the interference of family and tolerated feedback only from the closest of friends.

For Anne, it was when she realized she was not alone, that all those years of caring for children and friends, helping them to learn good habits and stepping in during illnesses meant she could call on them or others who could help her. She just needed to learn how to ask, and how to decide who to ask, without guilt or shame.

For Gary, it dawned on him slowly. The child of a single mother, from a cash-strapped, chaotic household, Gary was an excellent student, but never learned to brush his teeth or have a bedtime routine. A professor suggested he take care of his teeth because taking care of them would keep him healthy and add years to his life, and a friend noted that he had a hard time relaxing at the end of the day without drugs or alcohol. From these observations, he came to slowly realize that self-care was health care.

The names are fictitious, but the stories are real.

Have you ever thought about who the #1 provider of healthcare in your life is? If you haven’t, you might want to, because it’s yourself.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that paid, professional health care cost us an average of $8,400 per person in 2010; a life-time of such care would cost $663,600.

Yet the value of unpaid self-care and the care one gives to others over a lifetime may be as much as 4 times more valuable based on a wage rate of $10-$20/hour, which is less than the cost of such help when billed to insurance but often more than such workers actually make.

This will be a new perspective for most people.

This essay suggests new opportunities for understanding and providing the healthcare we need and will hopefully change how we conduct our lives as neighbors, friends and family.

Shared Journeys and Area Congregations Together, in concert with other community groups, hope to take small steps towards developing a community-wide appreciation of informal care. As the pilot unfolds, the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research at Cornell University will document and evaluate informal health care practices to determine what may or may not work.

Informal care involves paying attention to our eating habits, sleep practices, prescription and non-prescription medications, misuse of substances, exercise, physical activity, sexual relationships, emotional connection, and intellectual stimulation. Informal care is how we pay attention to the risks we and those we love take. It is also how we offer direct, physical care as well as share information, perspectives and advice with others. Informal care covers much of our health care with each person at the center of his or her own informal care community.

Yet informal care is greatly enhanced by effective formal care. Paid professional care is most effective when it makes sense to the recipients and their informal communities. We need both approaches.

Each person’s informal community is often larger than the staff backing up a healthcare professional. For resilient adults this may be 30 to 70 people, near and far, who make up their informal community regardless of age or culture. If your jaw dropped at the numbers, most people initially count only a handful of people, but after careful reflection, they make startling discoveries.

Politicians and the healthcare business community tend to support market-based or government-led healthcare. Neither system addresses the core issue — most care especially at the end of life comes from the unpaid efforts of the informal community. We need to deal with our real healthcare environment and build organically from there.

Our informal communities are the people with whom we voluntarily share our lives. They provide a more realistic, ecologically sound approach than the crisis approach to care. Most of us don’t see ourselves and our informal communities as the primary providers of our health care. Nor do we appreciate the degree to which our friends, family and neighbors shape our expectations for health and well-being

For twenty years Shared Journeys has fostered the balanced integration of informal community and professional care. We have learned that before the anxiety and fear of a crisis takes hold, healthy informal communities of care can operate as large networks of reciprocal relationships of people with mutual respect and regard, even if there are longstanding conflicts and inequalities among individuals.

When an individual and her or his specific informal community are aware of their roles prior to a health incident, they prevent the occurrence of the incident or minimize the impact of an ongoing health crisis.

Healthcare professionals promote team approaches to effectively integrate informal and paid professional care with the patient at the center of decision making. Unfortunately, paid professional care and informal care often function in incompatible ways. Similarly, formally organized volunteers—who are professionally recruited, trained and supervised—often cost almost as much as paid professionals per patient contact and function in the same way.

Informal community care is largely invisible to both healthcare providers and organized volunteers who enter a person’s life at or after the onset of a crisis. Informal care communities develop around individuals over years and decades of interaction.

We have concluded that informal community care is usually both too subtle and too fragile to engage with a highly disciplined and regulated healthcare industry as an equal care partner, unless the specific individual’s informal community is already self-aware and strong before the crisis.

The barriers to interaction are five-fold:

1) Unpaid, informal caregivers choose when and how to care for themselves as well as who and how to assist other individuals. They cannot be held accountable to employment rules or compensation that defines the provision of paid care or professional standards for volunteers;

2) Paid professional providers cannot relate to the 30 to 70 people that constitute an informal community, nor can they relate to the many roles a patient plays within that community;

3) Informal communication requires an openness and discernment about the trustworthiness of individuals in the informal community that is neither possible, nor legal due to privacy restrictions for professionals;

4) The productivity of informal communities arises out of the sheer number and redundancy of relationships and roles, which allow people to step forward or not, knowing someone else will step in; on the contrary, professional care is spare and efficient, at its best;

5) Individuals and informal communities know what is possible and worthwhile from many different perspectives–cultural, religious, scientific, economic and political. While open to engaging others, medicine is increasingly defined by a scientific framework. It also takes time to learn to communicate meaningfully with a specific individual’s informal community.

Better use of the informal community leads to improved health outcomes at no additional monetary cost. Shared Journeys’ experience suggests that earlier attention to the informal care community may help prevent health issues and may help alleviate those conditions that do occur. A strong informal community, especially if it can work with professionals, allows the paid healthcare system to perform more limited, strategic functions more effectively and efficiently.

In the weeks and months to come, we hope to share with local residents more about the importance of informal care networks, how to identify each individual’s informal community and strategies individuals may use to engage it more effectively. For more information, contact

Eric Clay is the Co-Founder and Community Coach of Shared Journeys.

October 6, 2014

Where Do We Go From Here?

Tompkins Weekly 10-06-14

By Nick Goldsmith

On September 21, the world made climate change history. Not in the form of unprecedented CO2 levels.  Not in the form of extreme weather. We’ve experienced those unfortunate events before, and we’ll face them again. When 400,000 global citizens of every race and religion marched on the streets of New York City, joined by tens of thousands more in over 2,600 events around the world, we made climate history – this time in a positive way.

The ripples of this massive climate action are still moving outwards fast, and as I continue my awestruck celebration of the powerful movement that was revealed in full force, I can’t help but wonder: where will those ripples lead? Where do we go from here? Will world leaders in the United Nations climate talks hear the call of the climate movement, or will they continue to drag their feet, and plod towards an inadequate solution?  Will the climate movement grow even larger, building upon this huge success, or will it dwindle as we all return to our lives and the multitude of other issues that demand attention?  Is it possible that we will proudly look back on September 21, 2014, and realize THAT was the moment? THAT was the moment that we gained critical mass. THAT instant of time marked the tipping point in the fight for climate action.  The answer is up to all of us, our huge and – finally! – visibly diverse climate movement.  Now that the world is watching, we’ve got to build on the momentum. The march was just the beginning. Where do we go from here?

One thing is clear: in a world where CO2 levels have reached 400 parts per million, there is no such thing as returning to “business as usual.” Either we change or the climate does, and we can no longer afford to wait for our leaders to act. Overcoming the complex and inter-related challenges of climate disruption and social inequality will require higher degrees of collaboration than we’ve seen in generations. As a sustainability employee at the Town of Ithaca and the City of Ithaca, I feel wholly inadequate to take on the immense challenges we face. But I am not alone. Many, many fantastic individuals and organizations in Tompkins County are working towards a healthy and happy future for our children, a future that balances our social, environmental, and economic needs.

Whether you are a newcomer to the climate movement or a veteran, whatever your background or political leaning, please consider doing something new. Now is the time to take that energy saving action you’ve been considering for years, be it to insulate your home, start taking the bus once a week, or try “meatless Mondays” in your household. We know collective actions can make an impact. Encourage your government, your workplace, and your friends to dedicate resources towards finding solutions. Work together. Consider volunteering for, donating to, or otherwise supporting one of our local nonprofits, businesses or government agencies working towards shared goals. Here are just a few opportunities:

Our small community sent over 400 people to the historic People’s Climate March. Where do we go from here? Let’s use our collective energy to answer that question. Forward, Ithaca!

This article was developed in collaboration with several sustainability leaders in the community. Nick Goldsmith is the Sustainability Coordinator for both the Town of Ithaca and the City of Ithaca. To stay up to date on local sustainability news and events, sign up for the monthly electronic Ithaca Sustainability newsletter at, or contact Nick at or 607-273-1721.