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Real Deal 

by Ann M. Colford

If you'd like to integrate energy efficiency and green choices into your life, but you're worried about the cost and not sure where to start, then Spokane Neighborhood Action Programs (SNAP) may be able to help. Through its Living Green program of classes, workshops, home parties and community events, SNAP helps participants make choices that reduce their impact on the environment and move toward a more sustainable lifestyle.

"The basic class is a real introduction to environmentally friendly living," says Barbara Williams, the Living Green Program Manager at SNAP.

The Living Green program grew out of the energy efficiency classes for Project Share recipients that SNAP has been running for many years now, says Williams. Those classes focused specifically on energy-related issues, but participants often had more broadly ranging questions and concerns about sustainability issues like recycling, trash reduction and the economics of healthy living. With help from a Department of Ecology grant, SNAP created the Living Green program about three years ago as a response to these issues.

The program holds classes at local libraries and community centers on a regular basis, and the class is used as a Lifeskill class for SNAP's homeless program. But the most unusual aspect of Living Green is the home party, a gathering of friends and neighbors at someone's home led by a Living Green community educator or SNAP staff member. Anyone may attend a home party; participants need not be low-income, although those who meet income requirements receive a goodie bag filled with energy-saving supplies.

"Anyone can schedule a home party," says Williams. "All they have to do is call me and then we can find a date that suits everyone."

At both the home parties and the classes, participants learn a variety of resource-saving techniques that can help save money as well. The starting point is basic energy efficiency for the home - adjusting the thermostat, limiting water usage, fixing leaks, and sealing drafts. Class leaders then share practical ideas for how to make green choices in the laundry and while cleaning house, including recipes for economical make-it-yourself non-toxic cleaners.

"You buy Windex and it's what, $3.69 a bottle?" she says. "Well, you can make a vinegar and water combination for ten cents and it works better. You can buy Downy Fabric Softener, which is incredibly toxic, or you can use a quarter-cup of white vinegar. We talk a lot about consumption habits, using and consuming. So it's about choices."

Then the topics expand to other lifestyle choices, including transportation. The program explains how buying in bulk can save money - and reduce trash - and how buying locally-grown organic food helps strengthen the local community. Handouts explain the options for recycling, how to begin composting organic waste at home, and how to reduce reliance on automobiles for transportation.

People who host a home party receive a gift certificate in return, donated by a local business, Williams says. "We have PEACH Safe Food memberships, tickets to the Garland Theater or the Met Cinema, lube job and oil changes at Hopkins Automotive, lunch at Chicken 'n' More downtown -- and several other locally owned businesses have contributed also."

Although the purpose is educational, Williams says the home parties are a lot of fun, too.

"It's much more informal than a classroom setting," she says. "People eat, they drink, they interject. But we go through the whole curriculum -- or we try." Often, she says, once the discussion starts, people begin to make connections and get energized.

The connection between environmentally friendly living and social justice is an easy link to make for Williams. "I was low-income," she says. "I was divorced, I had kids, I went back to school and I had no money. Thousands of women are in the same situation. SNAP is geared toward advocacy for low-income [people], and that's where it fits. It's economic justice, and it's environmental justice."

The goal of the Living Green program is help local citizens follow that old saw, "Think Globally, Act Locally." The classes and the home parties emphasize that the choices individuals make in their homes, offices and neighborhoods have a direct impact on both the local and the global community. With guidance from community educators, participants learn to live a healthier lifestyle while spending less money and consuming fewer resources.

"Everyone feels unempowered, like you can't make a difference," she says. "But that's the whole key of Living Green, that you can make a difference. The whole thing is geared toward building community. If you don't know your neighbors, it's not much fun, and it's not as safe. If you know your neighbors, you're more likely to care about taking care of things and making a difference."

For information about upcoming classes, to schedule a home party, or to receive the Living Green newsletter, contact Barbara Williams at 744-3370, ext. 205, or e-mail [email protected]

Publication date: 03/04/04

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