Blogs from Melissa Cabat Tue, 03 Jan 2017 13:19:41 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Community Voices - Alison Ricker alison rickerAlison Ricker is a Science Librarian at Oberlin College. She has held this position for thirty-one years. She has also collaborated with other science librarians in Ohio to present a poster at the 2012 American Association for the Advancement of Science Meeting, on digitization projects in the sciences among the Five Colleges of Ohio.


Q: What words or images would you use to describe Oberlin?

A: Friendly. Small. Walkable. How many do you want? My home [laughs]. Peaceful. Green. That’s all I can think of!

Q: Why would you choose that/those words or images?

A: Well, I thought of Tappan Square, and that’s where the peaceful and green came from. I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere else in my life, so it must be my home, even though I tell people that I’m from Michigan or Pennsylvania depending on what time period in my life they’re asking about. I’ve always found it to be very friendly, and when I travel somewhere else and walk by people on the street, if they don’t even look at me, let alone say hello, I’ll think, “Wow, if I was in Oberlin, people would at least look at me and smile!” And I know so many of the people who work in the stores downtown and they know me, so it’s very friendly.

Q: How is it you came to live and work in Oberlin?

A: I came here for my job at Oberlin College. I was at a protest in 1982 in Washington D.C. and there was this enormous banner that said “Oberlin for Peace and Justice” and a bunch of students, probably a whole busload of students, were holding up the banner—this was when people were calling for a nuclear freeze—and I thought, “Wow, that’s really cool! Here’s a school that has sent an entire busload of people to this nuclear freeze protest!” So when the job opening came up, I was very interested. It just fits well with my idea of social justice and ecological awareness.

Q: Can you expand on that a little bit?

A: Well, I’m a Science Librarian and I came from a Biology major background with a strong emphasis in ecology, and am very interested in making our ecosystem as healthy and sustainable as possible. I feel that Oberlin has that same level of consciousness, generally, and works hard to ensure that other people have that same understanding.

Q: Some people use the word “sustainability” to mean actions that enhance or maintain the economic, environmental and social welfare of the Oberlin community. What does sustainability mean to you and what does it mean in your life?

A: Well, it certainly means those things but it also means making conscious decisions that don’t hurt other people, other living beings, or any part of the world in which we live. For example, sustainable would be not just buying organic products but also ones that were not sold to you through slave labor or underpaying workers, which means buying fair trade products. I think fair trade products are a good indicator of sustainability so that the whole cycle of production and consumption is done in thinking about how we are living on this planet and to ensure that future generations will also be able to live here and live in balance with all other species.

Q: What actions are you engaged in that relate to sustainability?

A: Primarily as a supporter through donations to groups like Sierra Club or the National Resources Defense Council, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the Environmental Defense Fund, among others. I often send $25-$50 contributions and at the end of the year realize I’m sending all kinds of small contributions to many groups. I also respond very often to calls and email requests to sign an online petition or send a letter to a legislator or someone in a position to make decisions that impact the environment. But I don’t, outside of my own personal way of living, I don’t go out and proselytize that much. I was involved in a group called the Interfaith Committee on the Environment or ICE, which represented several churches in the area, not just churches but any kind of faith or spirituality group, that joined together to raise awareness for environmental issues within our own religious groups and faith-based communities. I’ve also participated in some calls to action from FaCT, the Faith Communities Together for Frack Awareness here in northeast Ohio.

Q: What is your favorite part about your job?

A:  My favorite part would be building collections—meaning from print and electronic resources—that help to inform and engage people about what I think are some of the most important issues facing us, and that would be understanding climate change, working towards a healthier environment, and understanding why that is important beyond just the economic considerations that some people seem to focus on solely, and taking a more holistic view. So it’s creating an environment for both learning and study where students, especially, feel that they are supported in whatever they’re doing as they’re studying.

Q: If you could look 20 years into the future, what would you like to see stay the same in Oberlin? What would you like to see change?

A: It would be great to see more people adopting a vegetarian way of life because I believe that our reliance on mass production of livestock is simply unsustainable. It requires so much water, so much land, and so much fertilizer, herbicide and pesticide use, so it would be great if we could all start living lower on the food chain. Also, the Green Belt vision for around Oberlin, I really like. It would be wonderful if that was flourishing and there were all kinds of farmers and other producers that were providing local goods and produce and that we were all taking advantage of that. For example, my husband and I often buy spinach that comes in those plastic bins, that’s already been pre-washed and I don’t know where it was grown. It’s so convenient, but I know at the same time that it’s not the most sustainable way for me to eat spinach. I should be buying spinach at the George Jones farm, or another local grower but it’s hard to grow spinach and have it year-round here. So, those kinds of tradeoffs are hard to make for personal reasons.

Q: Is there anything you would like to tell your fellow community members regarding care for the environment or sustainable living or respect for nature?

A: I think I would encourage us all to be much more mindful about how we eat, what we eat, what we wear, where those things come from, the impact that they have on the environment and on the humans that produce them. And it’s a difficult thing to do because when you’re in the store, at the moment, and you want or need a particular thing, it’s very hard to stop and think about how it got produced, and where, and who was negatively impacted by it, and who benefitted from it, perhaps unfairly. But those are the kinds of considerations that I wish everyone could be keep in mind. And not just mindful, but, you know—and this is true of myself—also able to live with my conscience much more consistently. I wish I was much more consistent in acting out my own beliefs, so for me to suggest that other people should do that when I don’t always do it myself is not completely honest. But that’s what I would like to see.

]]> (Melissa Cabat) Community Voices Mon, 27 Apr 2015 19:12:46 +0000
Community Voices - Krista Long 10408886 10205315515192490 303125158256278654 nQ:  What words/images would you use to describe Oberlin? 

A:  Let’s see…progressive, beautiful, historic, small town, musical.

Q: Why would you choose these words/images? 

A: Well, music because there are just so many wonderful concerts and performances going on in Oberlin with the Conservatory and the world-class musicians who come in to perform. I, myself, am especially fond of that because I’ve played a lot of music in my life. I play the piano and the cello. So, you know, it’s one of the clearest ways that Oberlin excels. It’s a beautiful small town. This part of Ohio is just so lush at this time of the year, but northern Ohio is beautiful even in the middle of winter! Small town because that’s what it is. Sometimes we like to pretend that we’re something else, more urban, and we are very cosmopolitan in some ways, but we still are a very small town in a very rural county, which we need to remember. Then there’s also the historic aspect of Oberlin and its origins, and the work that this community has done since its beginnings. 

Q: How is it that you came to open your business in Oberlin? 

A: I was born and raised in Oberlin. I went away to college and came back, not intending to stay. I worked at the Co-Op Bookstore for about ten years. After that I worked for an Wit & Wisdom in Cleveland during the heyday of the independent book sellers in the 80’s and 1990’s. Then I worked for Nacscorp here in Oberlin, part of the National Association of College Stores, as a buyer and marketing manager.  So basically, I’ve been a bookseller most of my life. When my job at NACS came to an end, I decided that used books was an aspect of bookselling that I didn’t know much about, and it seemed like a good thing to try, especially because at that time, the Co-op was dissolving. That store was closing, so it seemed appropriate to open another store, which I did, where Lupita’s is now. Shortly after that, I learned that Ben Franklin was for sale. I came in here and looked around and I saw that there was a lot of room for books—that we could move everything over and make room for books, which was what happened. It’s just been evolving ever since. Certainly, I never thought I would own Ben Franklin and have a used bookstore in it, if you’d asked me when I was your age, I would have laughed.

Q: How has the town changed since your time growing up here? If you could look 20 or 30 years into the future, what would you like to see change further (if anything)?

A: Well, there are many things that are really just the same. There are still lots of great music and art going on, it’s still a great place to raise your family; it’s still a beautiful place. How it’s changed? I feel like it’s become a little more isolated in terms of its local location and less isolated in terms of its widespread reputation. Lots more people seem to come from outside of Oberlin for various reasons—the students, the academics, the performers--historic tourism has brought a lot more people to Oberlin from around Ohio, but not just local, a bit broader than that. It’s become a little more dominated by the college than it was 40 years ago. It’s always been one of the most significant parts of the community. But I think it’s even more so today, especially considering the downtown is less retail-oriented than it used to be before the malls and big box store took their toll, being much more restaurant and entertainment-oriented. A lot of the reasons for that are the students, staff, and faculty who exist at Oberlin today.  I also don’t think the community is as diverse as it once was.

Q: Could you briefly describe the nature of your business and its function in the Oberlin community? 

A: The nature of our business is that we’re a variety store, so we sell a bunch of different things—a little bit of everything is what I commonly hear said in the store—for people who don’t want to or can’t go out of town for certain items and basic shopping for school and office supplies, beauty supplies, and household goods. Because we have such a small and concentrated mix of things, I try very hard to have a good mix of things—so we want something inexpensive and generic, something brand-name, and we want something organic, kind of to represent the different needs of people. I like to try to have a couple of choices in a lot of different areas. Another thing is that I try to offer small packages. Most people don’t want to buy 12 pens; they want to buy two pens, or maybe one. I’m still committed to the books, though it’s not what it used to be, considering how long I’ve been a bookseller, it’s at its nadir for brick and mortar stores, but we’re taking lots of great used books off of shelves in Oberlin and area residents. I like the idea that we are recycling these books back into the reading community.  I feel that used bookstores are going to survive the onslaught of mega etailers like Amazon better than some physical stores, so we keep trying to stay alive, find new ways to do business within our communities.   

Q: The word sustainability can be used to describe actions that promote the economic, social, and environmental well-being of a community. What does sustainability mean to you as an Oberlin resident and business owner? 

A: Like I said, with the books, it’s about offering reading material in a sustainable way and keeping things out of landfill and keeping things from being trashed when they’re perfectly good literature. The idea of not having to drive your car to buy merchandise and instead being able to bike or walk to get it—or, if you choose to drive, only having to drive a mile downtown to get what you need instead of loading up your car and waiting a long time to get what you need. A lot of times, I think you find that you load up on things you don’t need. For us, it’s important—to me, it’s important—to offer natural and organic, or at least low impact environmentally friendly products. I mean, I do have some products that wouldn’t fit that description, but I know that I prefer the lowest impact products that I can find, and so I like to make them available to other people. And by-and-large, it’s gotten to the point where those products are affordable and top quality. It used to be pretty pricey to buy those products and it’s not anymore. Obviously, many people like that kind of an option here, so I’m feeding the desires of our local population as well. I think the idea of keeping the money in our community is a sustainable concept as well. We pay local taxes, support our community projects, hire local folk, and tailor what we offer to our customers.  This is really what sustainability is about for me.  

 Q: What advice/tips would you offer to other business owners who are interested in adopting sustainable initiatives? 

A: First of all, there’s lots of things we can do within our business to lower your utility usage. For example, when we put in the ceiling fans it was shocking how much natural gas we saved by doing that. At one point, our furnace guy was here he aimed his temperature gage up at the ceiling, it was 85 degrees up there in the middle of the winter! So we run the fans all year round, they’re not just a cooling thing. At the same time, we also replaced our lighting—there was a state grant available—and we decided that if we were already fixing the lighting, we might as well add fans at the same time. So we did, and it’s just amazing. We also replaced the both of our entrance doors, the old front door had a huge gap. Snow would come in through that gap! Again just replacing that door, again, it has saved us lots of money on utilities. I’d love to be able to replace the windows. I can’t afford to do that and I don’t own the building, so that’s not really possible, although I am paying the utilities [laughs]! We do little things like turning the lights off when we leave the basement, recycling any trash that we can, minimizing our waste if possible, or reusing materials, selling scrap matboard instead of throwing it away.  Everybody has their own issues with their own businesses and they know their own business better than anybody else.

We have made attempts to brand the concept of “keeping it local” but it’s very hard to market the idea, and it’s something we need to do a better job of communicating. The turnover in population is high in Oberlin, you know, new students every year, and new faculty/staff, so it takes a constant and ever-changing effort.  People come to the area looking for things that are familiar, you know, brands that they know.  Where’s the Chipolte/Target/Lowe’s/fill-in-the-blank chain store? We do have most of what people need here in Oberlin, it’s just not the store they know.  So we need to do a better job of communicating that to our community.  We ALL need to support our neighbors.  Try Agave! Ben Franklin probably has that. Did you look at Ginko? Try Watson’s. This is what have to say to support our town, our neighbors.  I think for the most part, here in town, people are quite aware of the impact they’re having on the environment and they’re trying to do business in as sustainable of a manner as possible, but it really does take effort and awareness to keep it up.

]]> (Melissa Cabat) Community Voices Fri, 27 Mar 2015 19:57:17 +0000
Community Voices - Thomas Bethel

Tom BethelThomas Bethel is the Mastering Engineer/Managing Director of Acoustik Music, Ltd.. Prior to starting his own business, he served as Oberlin College’s Director of Audio Services and Concert Sound for 26 years. During his time working for Oberlin College, he recorded over three thousand concerts and did live concert sound for hundreds of live events.

Q: What words/images would you use to describe Oberlin? 

A: Green. The town is green; there are lots of flowers, grass and trees, all relative to the seasons. Green also describes how everyone here seems to be conscious of the environment and their own resource usage.

Q: Could you briefly describe the nature of your business and its function in the Oberlin community? 

A: We provide a number of services. We’re essentially an audio mastering facility. We also do on-location audio recordings and restoration/transfer of material from different media sources like records and tapes, which we then transfer to CDs or DVDs, whatever the case may be.  We also have CD/DVD printing and duplication services.

Q: Do you think there are ways to combine thinking about sound and thinking about the environment?

A: Definitely; I think the intersection of these topics is noise pollution. Noise pollution isn’t rampant in Oberlin, I’ve had friends stay here from New York and say they have trouble sleeping because it’s so quiet. I think the town of Oberlin is very good at not letting sound pollute its environment.

I think the one major thing about Oberlin that’s pretty amazing is that there are people from all kinds of socioeconomic backgrounds who are all living in the same town and all getting along well. I think something people don’t realize is that we’ve got professors and college administrators, who are making six figures in the area, but also 35% of the town is below the poverty level. Considering you’ve got that huge range, it’s incredible that Oberlin inhabitants get along as well as they do.

Q: So, the word sustainability can be used to describe actions that promote the economic, social, and environmental well-being of a community. What does sustainability mean to you as an Oberlin resident and business owner? 

A: We try to be very eco-friendly; we have a skylight—we use CFL or LED bulbs in all our lighting fixtures except for a couple or quartz halogens in our studio. The bulbs are low in power consumption and eco friendly, and we dispose of them properly. We work very closely with OMLPS (the Oberlin Municipal Light and Power System), and we’ve done most of the things that they’ve suggested to make us more energy efficient. We’ve gotten the whole house re-insulated; we’ve put in more energy efficient appliances and in so doing we’ve significantly cut our energy usage.

All the packing materials we use for eBay sales are made from recycled materials—things like boxes and packing materials. We try to be very eco-friendly and we do a lot of recycling with our technology as well.

Q: We talked earlier about how Oberlin has changed since your arrival. If you could look twenty years into the future, what would you want to see? What would be similar or different?

A: I would like to see a little bit more cooperation between the town and the gown; I think that the town and the college need to work closer together. I think this green initiative is a good idea, especially if they’re going to use local farmers to help supply the town’s food.

One thing that really changed in Oberlin when I first got here was that hardly any students had cars.  I don’t know what it’s up to now but at one point during Nancy Dye’s reign, I think the percentage of young adults who had cars on campus was quite high. So, anybody had access to a car, because if they didn’t have one, they had a friend or a boyfriend or a girlfriend who did. Everybody here in town used to bike everywhere, but now with a car, they leave town and go to the malls. The one thing that Oberlin definitely needs—and I was sorry to see it fade away—is the Lorain County Transit Authority. While it was working, it was a great opportunity for students and elderly people to get around. They could get to doctor’s appointments or shopping places. It was a great thing. Then, I guess, it got too costly and was under funded from the start.

Q: What advice/tips would you offer to other business owners who are interested in adopting sustainable initiatives? 

A: Talk to somebody who they can get advice from. We talked to OMLPS, and they were very helpful; they came out and did an energy survey of the house and gave us suggestions about how to reduce our energy usage. Later they came out and re-surveyed the house after we had completed the improvements they had suggested. There are now people everywhere who have a lot of experience with sustainability. I think that’s another thing that the college could provide to town businesses and residents: showing them where they can save money through efficient use of energy. That would be great.  We only have ourselves to blame if we don’t do something to save our dwindling resources.

I just showed Larry Cariglio from Lorenzo’s some of our LED bulbs, and explained how they could save him hundreds of dollars a year. He was really excited about it. I think it’s important to engage the community, maybe give them some ideas about being more sustainable. I know we’ve had a couple of people call us up after they heard about what we’ve done with our resource usage and asked to come see it and we’ve had companies call us and say “I understand [OMLPS] helped you, what did they do?” And we tell them. So that’s a good thing.

]]> (Melissa Cabat) Community Voices Wed, 19 Nov 2014 14:53:20 +0000
Community Voices - Tanya Rosen-Jones photo

Tanya Rosen-Jones is the owner of Rosen-Jones Photography. She is an Oberlin alumnus who studied History. She now lives in Oberlin with her husband, who also graduated from Oberlin, and her two sons. She hails from Berkeley, California.

 Q: What words/images would you use to describe Oberlin? Why would you choose these words/images? 

A: I would say trees and green. There is a universal commitment to try to be greener here, and to try to live a more sustainable life. It’s one of the reasons why we moved here, actually.

Q: How is it that you came to open your business in Oberlin?

A: I went to Oberlin College in the ‘90s, back when fashion was horrible and we had no hair products. I met my husband here—we’re one of those Obie couples—and we left for eleven years. Then we came back for our tenth reunion and were astonished at how beautiful it was here and realized that Oberlin was the community we were searching for; it’s a place where we could afford a house, we could walk or ride our bikes to work if we wanted, and our children could ride their bikes in the streets. Also, Oberlin had tons of artistic and cultural attractions that were available to us. So, we decided to try to get employed here, and my husband actually got a job at the college. He’d been working at MIT before.

Q: When you lived near MIT, were you more in a suburban or an urban kind of community?

A: We had been in a more urban community, but right before my husband got the job at MIT, we had just moved to the suburbs. It was pretty bad timing! We had lived in an urban environment, but we wanted more green space and we wanted more of a yard. But when we moved to the suburbs and my husband started his job at MIT, we realized that we weren’t really suburban people. So we were like, “if we’re not city people and we’re not suburban people, what are we?” And then I remembered: I grew up in Berkeley, California. That was when I realized that we were college town people. It’s that happy medium between urban and suburban—it has the comfort level where you know lots of people, but there are still intellectual conversations happening. Then we moved back to Oberlin. I had had a photo business for years in Boston and decided that I wanted to open a storefront here.

Q: What’s it been like running your business in Oberlin? Have you enjoyed your interactions with the Oberlin community? Have you met interesting people?

A: Absolutely! We’re very fortunate.My husband and I are both alums, so we’re connected to the college in that way. My husband also works for the college, so we’re connected to the college in that way as well. We have young children, so we got to know a lot of people through the daycare and the elementary schools in town. And then, opening a business here, I got to meet a lot of the local business owners, so it felt like I was connected to Oberlin in five different ways, so I definitely felt blessed in that way.

Q: Could you briefly describe the nature of your business and its function in the Oberlin community? 

A: I try to be a small-town photographer, so I offer all different kinds of photography from headshots to weddings, babies, maternity, engagement sessions, seniors in high school, and I just kind of try to be here as a resource for the community. I even do some random requests for some of the more elderly residents of Oberlin; sometimes they’ll bring me old photos that I’ll scan, fix up, and then give them the new prints. So, again, I like being here as a resource…and if I can stay for the long haul, it’s also nice to see, as time passes, how the children grow, or, as the students become famous, I can pull out pictures I have of them when they were just starting out. It’s pretty fun! I like to help people document important times in their lives, and it’s fun to be associated with our small community in that way.

Q: What changes have you seen at Oberlin College since your time at the school? If you could look twenty years into the future, what would you want to see in those students that you don’t see as much currently?

A: Well, even though Oberlin does change all the time, there are these weird constants as well. There are these archetypes of people who are attracted to Oberlin, which is comforting in some ways. We all knew those people when we were back in school here too, and hopefully they’ll just keep coming for decades to come.

The students are, from what I can tell, more confident in a way. I actually think it’s because of the Internet because in our day, we came here and there were all these strong personality types in high school, like the ones you see in those ‘80s movies, the jocks, and the nerds and the weirdos—that actually existed. Or at least, you felt like you had to fit into those categories. And people who were attracted to Oberlin back then were generally trying to fight against those things. So we came to Oberlin and asserted that “we were different, we were weird!” We got here and we were all very vocal about it, but then we realized that we all were slightly weird. We realized that we didn’t have to be so loud about it and that we should just be ourselves.

But that was a process for us, and now people come here with more of a sense of themselves because they’ve almost all gotten a chance to have a community before. They could find people who looked like them, felt like them, acted like them. They don’t have to try to prove themselves as much. That’s the only difference I’ve really noticed, and I’m not sure if that’s even a positive or a negative, it just kind of is.

In Twenty years, I would hope that students would continue to be more confident in themselves, and more compassionate of others.  I would hope that they would see the world as gray, instead of black and white.  And to see commonalties in people that appear quite different from themselves.

Q: The word sustainability can be used to describe actions that promote the economic, social, and environmental well-being of a community. What does sustainability mean to you as an Oberlin resident and business owner? 

A: Sustainability, for me, is a way to prolong and to provide. The reason that I think sustainability is a possibility for Oberlin is that we have farmlands and a drive to create an area here from which we can support ourselves. We’re becoming more and more self-sufficient and relying less on getting our products from outside. I guess, to me, sustainability is just about providing for our future.

Q: Do you think sustainability is a relevant factor in making business decisions? Why?

A: I try to source as many products as locally as possible.  And I shop downtown whenever possible.  Sustainability of a vibrant downtown is also very important to me.

Q: What advice/tips would you offer to other business owners who are interested in adopting sustainable initiatives? 

A: I would say to really do your research and figure out if there’s a way to minimize cost, expenditures, and damage in your business. And if there is, price it accordingly. You just have to do your research, and whenever possible, think with your heart.

Q: As a photographer, what inspires you to create?

A: I’m the rare person, I guess, in that I’m completely inspired by people. I tried many different kinds of photography and worked for many different photographers but I kept feeling like, “I hate that! I don’t want to do that!” Eventually, I realized that I could just take inspiration from my clients ‘and their events. I mean, like, if there’s a wedding, yeah, there’s a lot of headache and pressure involved, but it’s also this incredible experience that brings people and families together and so many beautiful and genuine emotions are expressed. I take my inspiration from the history that I’m helping to create, and from light, of course, but really, it’s the people who drive me to continue creating. People always ask me, “What do you do for yourself?” And I reply, “I work!” I love working, I love what I do, and I love the people I get to meet and work with.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A: What I would love to see happen—which happens in my home area—is compost pickup, which is really cool. At my sister’s house, they have a huge garbage bin that’s entirely compost and then a teeny little garbage can for garbage. It’s so nice because not everyone can have a compost bin in the backyard. They pick it up the compost every week, and it’s an incredible system. It might be hard to implement in Oberlin because the size of the town is a bit limiting, and people may not be willing to compost because of the smell, but I think it would be great for the town. 

]]> (Melissa Cabat) Community Voices Mon, 10 Nov 2014 20:44:46 +0000
Community Voices - Mark Fahringer Mark FMark Fahringer is a Coordinator at The Salvation Army Oberlin Service Unit. He also has volunteered as a Board Member and Board Chair for the Catholic Action Commission of Lorain County. In March 2009, he was awarded the Bishop A.J. Quinn Peace and Justice Award for efforts in immigration reform.

Q: What words/images would you use to describe Oberlin? 

A: Diverse but inclusive, really open and friendly.

Q: How is it that you came to work and live in Oberlin? 

A: Well, actually, I was living in Wooster and met my wife, who’s not a lifelong Oberlin resident but has lived here for almost her whole life. It was one of those great things; I was renting an apartment and she owned a house. I was working for the Salvation Army in Wooster but it was a 40-hour weekend, so it was just like one trip down and one trip back and I was covered. So, since she owned, I was like, “okay, I’ll just move down here.” [Laughs] I did that for a while and then at the end of 2010, I was asked if I would consider volunteering to help out the Salvation Army because they wanted to split off from Wellington and re-open a unit here, and I said “sure” because I had time during the week. I really saw the potential to do more than we were doing, and then, I helped increase our donations and programs and so they asked me if I would work part-time here, so we did that. Then we got a grant for a new program, which is actually an ex-offender reentry program for Lorain County that we were basing out of our office. When that grant came through, they asked me to come full-time here, which was last fall, so I left Wooster completely and came to work here full-time.

Q: Could you briefly describe the nature of your business and its function in the Oberlin community? 

A: I’m part of the Service Extension Department of the Salvation Army. Everyone thinks Salvation Army and associates it with churches, but the Service Extension Department is the social service branch. I mean, obviously we’re still faith-based but it doesn’t have a church attached to it or anything. We do strictly social service work, much along the lines of OCS. We work very well as a compliment to them in some ways; we’re the smaller agency so there are times where they help someone with part of a bill for assistance and we pick up the rest or whatnot. That’s kind of how we started when we came back to town.

Now, like I said, we have this grant, and we’ve started a countywide program for ex-offender reentry. We put together a resource guide—we jokingly call it a “Paper 211”—for folks getting ready to come out of prison or folks who have just gotten out of prison and don’t have access to computers or whatnot. They can look up various resources for social services, food pantries, information on how to get a driver’s license, et cetera. So we do that, and we’re expanding it into running a “life skills” program inside prisons and within the community to do some re-training for things like finances, budgeting, families, life, all kinds of things, as well as employment. And the Department of Corrections has asked us to expand that directory into other counties in the state, so we’re working on putting that together and I’ve been having conversations with the Bonner Center about finding students who would be interested in doing research on those other resources in different counties. So basically, in regards to the second half of what you were asking, we work closely with the OCS and other programs like the Backpack Program for the Oberlin City Schools and help the community.

Q: What is your favorite part of your job?

A: One favorite thing is that it’s a whole lot of different things; I’m not pigeonholed into doing one thing, I’m out in the community and out in other communities. I have the chance to speak to various organizations and whatnot, which is always good. I really enjoy the fact that, at least in some small way, I get to make a difference. That’s probably the biggest thing—I don’t feel that I’m just pushing paper, I’m actually out doing something for people.

Q: The word sustainability can be used to describe actions that promote the economic, social, and environmental well-being of a community. What does sustainability mean to you as an Oberlin resident and business owner? 

A: Different things. I mean, we use it all the time in terms of what we call household sustainability, which I guess is primarily economic. Not just helping someone pay a bill but hopefully doing enough case management to help them get to a point where they don’t have to come back. Sometimes you get outside of the financial or economic realm with those people, like I might see a city utility bill that’s crazy high and I’ll ask what the people are doing to run up their electricity bills, like using their stove for heat and I try to give them some alternatives or find resources that might help them get a higher efficiency furnace or a better furnace, so there’s those kinds of things. You’re always looking for those resources. Again, for me, they may be fine on the income side but you have an expense problem, which can lead to conversations about budgeting. Personally, anything we plant, I keep a water barrel outside back so I tend to water plants with that as much as I can. So, yeah, doing things like that and making sure that we don’t leave our lights on in the house. It means a lot of different things, but in my job, it’s about economics.

Q: Do you think sustainability is a relevant factor in making business decisions? Why?

A: Sure, and for a number of reasons. I mean, one example is that, not just with the Salvation Army but I’m very involved with the Catholic Action Commission here in Lorain County, which is a social action and advocacy organization and we always think about sustainability when we do things. We’ve had, for years, an Environmental Committee that helps do things like recycle printer cartridges. So, obviously the environmental aspect has to be kept in mind, and from a stricter business sense, beyond that, it’s about costs and savings. It’s about using higher efficiency lights that work or recognizing and cycling things off so that everything doesn’t run all day, and consolidating trips in the car when we make runs. We have to realize that you can promote sustainability and have it be a huge cost-saving initiative in a business atmosphere.

Q: If you could look 20 years into the future, what would you like to see remain the same about Oberlin? What would you like to be different?

A: There’d still be rocks [laughs]. You know, I think it would be different by being the same from the standpoint that the movement it has, and has always had towards environmental and social action issues would continue to evolve. I think it would still be there but at the level it needs to be for its time. I also think it would still have its sense of community. My hope is that we stay as much of a community as we currently are, because for a community that has so much technology, there’s still a lot of interpersonal contact and I always fear that it’ll go away at some point, but I really hope it doesn’t.

]]> (Melissa Cabat) Community Voices Fri, 31 Oct 2014 19:45:54 +0000
Community Voices - Robert Q. Thompson Robert Q. ThompsonRobert Q. Thompson is a chemistry professor at Oberlin College. He has invested time, money, and effort into installing solar panels in his home and has created an energy-efficient and green household. He has lived in Oberlin and worked at the college for thirty-two years.

 Q: What was the process of making your home more ‘green’ like for you? What did it teach you about environmental design and construction?

A: Well, it was a big investment for me. I’ve always thought about it and I finally had the wherewithal to do that. There was a Federal rebate, a tax rebate for it at that time, and I thought if I talk about it, I should put my money where my mouth is and do something about it as well. I felt it would be kind of interesting for more people to get involved in that. I use it in the Solar Tour and I have had students come look at the house and I thought it was a good way to showcase what can be done in Northeastern Ohio. I know a neighbor of mine was talking to a friend who saw the solar panels going up and said, “this is never going to work, it’s Ohio” but we make more energy than we use and that’s been great.

Q: So, whom do you hope that you inspired by installing the solar panels on your home and who or what inspired you to do so?

A: Well, I think through the Solar Tour and talking to people, I think—I don’t know if inspires is the right word—but I’ve interested people in solar panels and having them in their homes and in trying to make their homes as efficient as possible. It’s always good for people to talk to those who’ve actually done these things rather than just talking to someone about ‘is it possible’. I hope I’ve given them the information they need and what they do with it or not, it’s their own decision. I guess—I don’t know if I was inspired by any particular event or any particular person—just being in this environment and being part of committees and other groups that talked about sustainability, I think that helped me realize what I could do as an individual. And again, it’s an expensive enterprise, it’s not something I can ever pay back, but it’s a contribution that I felt I needed to make to the world, to the environment.

Q: Some people use the word sustainability to mean actions that enhance/maintain the economic, environmental and social welfare of the Oberlin community. What does sustainability mean to you and in your own life?

A: Sustainability, to me, I think means that we try to be stewards of our resources and be careful of our resources knowing that they are limited and expensive to attain. We try to use as little as possible and re-use when we can. We try to think globally because everything is interconnected. So what we do, even though it seems minor, can have a major effect, collectively, on the world. Those are the kind of things I think about—trying to preserve the world for future generations.

Q: Is there anything you would like to tell your fellow Oberlin community members—not necessarily just people within the college, but people within the town as well—regarding how Oberlin as a town has been in terms of its environmental practices?

A: I mean, I don’t want to act like I know more than anyone or it is only about profit or something. I think, in general, Oberlin is saying that they want to be a green town and that most people want to be involved in that. Some people in small ways like recycling, but then in other ways like working with power to get the pumps fixed up. I think it’s a good feeling within the community as a whole, the community as a whole is working towards this goal and being able to do that in as many ways as possible. So that’s what I hope, and that’s why it’s a nice community. It’s diverse, and we’ve got to make sure that we’re bringing everyone on board instead of just saying ‘we’re moving forward’.

Q: If you could use one word or one image to describe Oberlin, what would it be and why?

A: Fearless! [laughs] I think socially-conscious…that’s hyphenated. Oberlin as a town and as a college is progressive, forward-thinking, pushing the envelope. 

]]> (Melissa Cabat) Community Voices Mon, 12 May 2014 18:43:00 +0000
Community Voices - Ron Bier  

Ron BierRon Bier is a Chemistry and Environmental Science teacher at Oberlin Senior High School. While he hails originally from the east side of Cleveland, he and his family currently live in Amherst, Ohio.


Q: What words or images would you use to describe Oberlin, and why would you choose those words or images?


A: In terms of the community as a whole, it’s a very progressive city as a whole. It’s very well educated, very open-minded. I’d say it is quite liberal-thinking, which to me is always the way to go, and willing to think about tomorrow, which is what all of this environmentalism should be about. It should be about thinking about tomorrow more than we have in the past, when we didn’t think about the future much, and not thinking about it got us into some of the problems we’re having today. Oberlin wants to try new things and make things better for future generations, all of those kinds of feel-good stories.


Q: A lot of people have different ways of defining sustainability, like using the term “sustainability” to mean actions that enhance or maintain the economic, environmental and social wellbeing of the Oberlin community.” What does sustainability mean to you, both as a community member and as a teacher?


A: Sustainability in general forces us to look in the mirror and ask “are we doing what we’re doing now in ways that will carry us into the future without using too much energy, using too much water, eating too much food, if our houses are too big, what can we maintain?” I teach environmental science and I did a bit on our ecological footprint, looking at how much stuff Americans use compared to someone in Europe, compared to someone in Africa, or in South America. What it comes down to is that Americans just use—or consume—way too much of everything. We use too much energy, too much of our resources, too much food, too much water, we have a lot of waste, of course, going in and we don’t recycle. In those regards, we talk about sustainability a lot. We want to figure out how we can help to reduce our consumption—whatever it is—to make things more sustainable for the future. We want to see if we can reduce our usage. It forces us to look at our lives—we may not want to change much, but we’re going to have to.


Q: When you teach students about their ecological footprint, how do they react to it? Are they surprised by the size of their footprint?


A: They were interested. You could tell it was kind of sparking their brains. We get into these big, healthy discussions in class and people would say things like ‘if I’ve got to use my car less, how am I supposed to get to Wal-Mart and carry my stuff home?” or “if I want to go to the mall and buy school clothes, I can’t walk to Elyria and come back with all that stuff.” I could tell there were some heavy thoughts going on in their heads about taking shorter showers and turning lights off when they leave the room, and about recycling, with both organic and inorganic recycling. It really opened their eyes up—we asked them how many pairs of shoes they have, and it goes to show, everyone thinks that girls have more shoes but some of the boys had like thirty pairs. The conversation went off in all sorts of directions but it was a really good discussion about ecological footprints and how we can reduce it.


Q: Is there anything you want to tell your fellow community members—teachers, residents of Oberlin, etcetera—regarding the way that they care for the environment and about respecting nature?


A: Wow, that’s a good one. I think maybe the biggest way, for me, as a teacher, to influence the way people respect nature is to spread the word. I say ‘dinner table talk’, but talk within the house when the kid goes home about what they learned in school that day or what they talked about in school that day, all these different things over a course of a year, or four years, if the kid is in my Environmental Science class or in any class about environmental issues, they take those thoughts and lessons home and share it with their mom and dad—or whoever they’re staying with, it could be a relative. They’ll ask, “hey, why aren’t we recycling in our house?” or, “hey, I learned in school today that if we turn off the lights in the basement when no one is down there, we could save $20 a year on electricity.” We talk about the next generation: kids eventually become adults and their decisions are often formed as kids, through things they learned at school and things that they begin to understand about the environment and the community. It’s even the small things that make a difference, like not littering. It’s as simple as that. Recycling, of course, as well. What they take with them from school can affect the rest of their lives, and it can be what they take to educate people at home. Everything starts to build up. The teachers here support the kids well, and even if there’s a kid that’s saying, “Okay, I’m keeping my distance,” the teachers stay patient. Education is ongoing, you know; it never ends. I’m fifty-one years old and I like to think that I’m educated every day.


]]> (Melissa Cabat) Community Voices Thu, 13 Mar 2014 19:17:35 +0000