I have been active in our community since 1994 when I helped found the Tapteal Greenway. I served on the Tapteal Board for about 10 years, managing the newsletter, helping with fundraisers, and guiding nature hikes for people of all ages. I also ran a program that served area daycare providers taking children out to Chamna Natural Preserve to explore, look for critters, and do little art projects. When I had small children of my own, I carried them along in a backpack, or led activities as they toddled along beside me.
I volunteered as a science fair coordinator, science fair judge, band mom and chaperon, MC at Tumbleweed Music Festival, and helped with numerous political campaigns (not to mention running for office). I’ve worked nearly full time throughout and raised two outstanding humans with my awesome husband. His willingness to cook dinner at least half the time, as well as take care of laundry and other house chores, made my rushing off to yet another meeting or special event possible. And he volunteered, too—with the Greenway, Three Rivers Folklife Society, and 3Rivers Lacrosse Club.
Around 2009, I grew tired of the ‘Save the Earth’ narrative so many environmentalists use. We need to save ourselves—addressing environmental racism—and making sure everyone has clean water and air. We must strengthen human connections, improve access to healthy food, affordable housing and safe streets where we can walk or bike or roll, leaving the pollution and expense of a car behind. The COVID-19 epidemic has reinforced these facts.
I know the environmental movement screwed up. At the national and international levels, many groups are working on fixing that. Bill McKibbon, founder of 350.org, stepped aside to make room for new diverse leaders. McKibbon continues to push away attention, forcing the media to recognize that the movement belongs to everyone, but especially to those who suffer the most harm. Groups like Protect Our Winters have been building diverse membership and promoting People of Color in the outdoors for years, well before the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Recently, I had a conversation with the current President of the Tapteal Greenway Association about diversifying and growing the board. We talked about how we can build relationships with other groups and support them, in the hopes that we’ll cross-pollinate and grow together. The groups I manage or volunteer for want to engage younger members and volunteers including people from the LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities.
I have written extensively about race and inclusion in this space. Certainly no one wants to be tokenized, and it’s understandable why folx may not rush out and try to insert themselves in organizations that haven’t explicitly invited them. However, if we want to build stronger communities, we must work together where we can. Investing time and energy on common values—like recreation, the arts, or protecting the environment—provides opportunities to grow and learn.
At the local, grassroots level, many organizations rely on a handful of stalwart board members to keep their group functioning. Perhaps, in their efforts to hold on and keep things running, those groups wind up being unintentionally exclusionary.
Local groups are often hard to discover if you don’t know exactly who, or what type of group or activity, you’re looking for. Even local chapters of national groups may be difficult to locate if you don’t know precisely how they’re named.
The following is a list of organizations I’ve volunteered for or donated to locally. If you want to connect with the larger community and aren’t already familiar with what these organizations do, please check them out!
You don’t have to commit to serve on a board, but there may be a trail maintenance day, educational event, or fundraiser you can help with.
- Tapteal Greenway: protecting public access to lands along the Yakima River and Amon Creek
- Lower Columbia Basin Audubon Society: bird watching, conservation education, citizen science
- Friends of Badger Mountain: trail access and maintenance
- Sustainable Tri-Cities: smart growth, complete streets, bike and pedestrian safety
- Native Plant Society: education, wildflower hikes, restoration, native plant sales
- Tres Ríos Community Land Trust: affordable, democratically controlled housing
- Citizens’ Climate Lobby: education and action to fight climate change
- League of Women Voters of Benton-Franklin Counties: non-partisan voter education and debates
- PFLAG Benton/Franklin: education and support to the LGBTQ+ community and their friends and family
- Three Rivers Folklife Society: acoustic music concerts, dances, Tumbleweed Music Festival
- Tri-Cities Diversity and Inclusion Council: embracing cultures and celebrating diversity through education, advocacy, and the promotion of cultural competence and compassion
Ginger Wireman is an environmental educator teaching about Hanford cleanup in her day job. She is an active volunteer working to dismantle systemic racism in urban planning, focusing on the intersection of environmental justice and climate change because BIPOC are disproportionately harmed by climate injustices.
Main image: Mare Wakefield and Nomad performing at the 2019 Tumbleweed Music Festival / Photograph by Justin Hawkes