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These activists still celebrate Earth Day in earnest

by: Shasta Kearns Moore, Grassroots activists and volunteers for sustainability, Dick and Jeanne Roy have used their Hillsdale home several times over the years for their classes on sustainability. Their latest effort teaches people to be more effective grassroots organizers.

HILLSDALE - Stepping into Dick and Jeanne Roy's home in Hillsdale is like walking into a time capsule from the 1970s. The décor is in earth tones, and the furnishings have been well-kept to avoid throwing them in the garbage.

Inspired by the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, the Roys have dedicated much of their lives to preserving the environment and organizing grassroots campaigns. Over the years, they have founded several regional and national programs, from the Northwest Earth Institute to the Oregon Natural Step Network.

These days, the Roys are working on their latest nonprofit: the Center for Earth Leadership, which offers classes on organizing oneself or others for the environment through techniques that they have developed through decades of personal experience.

'It's really not that difficult,' Jeanne said. 'If I did it, anyone can do it.'

Though the Center for Earth Leadership offers many courses, its flagship class is called 'How to be an agent of change in your circle of influence.'

The five-session course will help participants identify their sphere of influence, whether it be in the workplace, in the community or at school, and develop a specific plan for moving that group toward a more sustainable outlook.

Participants have already organized a community garden, launched a zero-waste campaign at an elementary school and fostered a sense of community among disparate groups.

'Just the thought of that happening all over the place really pumps us up,' Dick said.

A key feature of the course is learning to change the tone of the conversation from one of imposition to one of opportunity. Energize people by showing them the benefits they will get from following eco-friendly methods instead of pleading with them to change their ways, Dick said.

'If you're trying to save the Earth, that's a highly beneficial activity,' he said.

Jeanne agreed, 'It's more than just utopia, it's a matter of survival.'

A life of volunteerism

Beginning in 1968, when the world saw the first picture of the entire Earth from outer space, Jeanne and her husband realized the magnitude of what humans were doing to the planet and decided to help.

Jeanne quit her job as a teacher and dedicated her life to volunteerism. Dick, who graduated from Harvard Law in 1970, followed her example in 1993 when he retired from his corporate law practice at Stoel Rives.

Dick, who peppers his conversation with references to books like Jared Diamond's 'The Third Chimpanzee' and Stephen Covey's 'The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,' said their focus has always been on grassroots efforts.

'What would really be our highest vision is if the citizens would be true leaders,' he said.

SW Portlanders poised to make a difference

Hillsdale resident Vesna Kostur said the course helped her to put action and organization into her vague feeling that there needed to be more interaction between the two campuses of Sunstone Montessori school: Odyssey Montessori School on 53rd Avenue, and Two Rivers Montessori School in Multnomah Village.

'It was really an interesting way to pull together some interesting ideas that I had in my mind,' she said. 'I think they've really tapped into something.'

Kostur, a full-time parent, said the classes inspired her to start meeting with her friends and others at the school to see if they, too, wanted a better sense of community.

They did.

Today, Sunstone parents can participate in weekly hikes and two monthly coffee hours, fostering a sense of community between them, all started by Kostur's idea.

'It starts with the personal, spreads out into relationships with friends and spreads out into world from there,' she said. 'I think those are where the most meaningful changes come from.'

Kostur added that she thinks Hillsdale is a prime place for one of these classes as there is a developing sense of place and community.

'It would be great if a bunch of us could get together and make that further concrete into our daily existence,' she said.

Dick said the fact that Hillsdale and Multnomah are more affluent than other Portland neighborhoods also make this area particularly suited to making a difference.

'The people who have some flexibility are the ones who are capable of pushing the envelope,' he said.

Get Involved!

Agent of Change classes are ongoing; the next five-session course is scheduled for Wednesdays, April 23 to May 14, and June 11 from 7 to 5:45 p.m. Class size is limited to 14 participants, and the class location is chosen depending on who signs up and where they live. There is no charge for the class, but advance registration is required. Contact Meghan Mix at 503-227-2315 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. For further information about the center, visit www.earthleaders.org.