Taking A LEAP Toward A Better Environment

CINCINNATI — A young college student looked quickly about before she tossed her garbage over her shoulder. The plastic water bottle rolled until it landed at the edge of a barren strip of land that stretches through the heart of Clifton.

Nearby, empty buildings stand as tired sentinels, bereft of attention, their paint peeling as opaque windows face the community like dead, soulless eyes.

Meanwhile, two other students, Derek Vogel, 19, a civil engineering major, and Anamika Modawal, 19, a business and biology major, shared a desk in a computer lab at the University of Cincinnati.

Together they performed database searches on the Internet, shared ideas on how to address the issue of cleaning up the uptown neighborhood, and planned for a meeting of the Leaders for Environmental Awareness and Protection (LEAP).

The two co-presidents were pleased with the current size of their organization. “We now have about 15 members who regularly participate, but over 150 members on our (e-mail) roster,” Modawal said.

LEAP originated in October 2005 when a small group of UC students recognized the need to promote environmental protection both on campus and in the community, said Vogel, who has been with the organization for two years.

Since its inception, LEAP has not desisted from its goal. It has partnered with Keep Cincinnati Beautiful and has continually supported the Return the Warmth program. “This is not part of the ‘pitch-in’ recycling initiative,” Vogel said. “It was solely put on by LEAP.”

Keep Cincinnati Beautiful provided LEAP with 25 cardboard containers that feature the Rumpke logo. These bins are placed in several buildings around campus and are used to gather No. 1 plastics which LEAP members collect and will give to Rumpke, a privately owned waste and recycling company, on May 31.

The best laid plans are not always able to be followed, however. In the beginning, Rumpke gave LEAP a large trash container in which the plastics could be stored and held for collection by the company. “This dumpster has been full of trash since its placement, so I have stored the bags in my basement for the time being,” Vogel said.

When Rumpke does collect the plastics at the end of the month, they will be recycled and turned into fleece coats for children and given back to the community, Vogel said.

LEAP Secretary Julia Ferguson, 21, a political science major, helps coordinate events between LEAP and Keep Cincinnati Beautiful, where she works as an intern.

The two organizations distributed 75 recycling bins throughout the Clifton community on April 12, Ferguson said. They also registered people for recycling service, which is free for Cincinnati residents.

Members of the community were grateful when they received a recycling bin because many people had not known how to obtain one. “We had a couple of other people tell us that they had their bin stolen,” Ferguson said, laughing. “And then a couple of doors down someone actually said, ‘Oh, well I stole a bin.’ So it was a really good response.”

Members of LEAP come from a wide range of disciplines, including: neuroscience, political science, environmental science, business, and more. “It’s an interest that touches a lot of different areas and engages a lot of people,” Ferguson said.

In an effort to create interdisciplinary programming that has a greater impact on campus, LEAP partnered with two other environment-friendly student organizations, the Environmental Law Society and Students for Ecological Design.

The 11th Hour movie poster

LEAP invited students to attend a showing of “The Eleventh Hour,” a documentary produced and narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio that details the possibility of human extinction and the importance of decreasing the carbon footprint.

Together, the three organizations have created programs like “Earth Education Week,” which was held earlier this April.

During that week, LEAP’s leaders focused on the importance of educating students about environmental sustainability. On April 17, LEAP invited students to attend a showing of “The Eleventh Hour,” a documentary produced and narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio that details the possibility of human extinction and the importance of decreasing the carbon footprint.

Two representatives from Tree Media Group and the Eleventh Hour Action Campaign flew in from California and Washington, D.C. to host the event and make it more of an action oriented plan, said Modawal.

The co-presidents were pleased with the university’s response to the event. Upwards of 40 people attended the event, Vogel said.

Despite the message and global impact of “The Eleventh Hour,” however, Vogel said that LEAP’s real goal is to focus on local issues.

Ferguson hopes to beautify the razed blocks between McMillan and Calhoun streets in Clifton, but she discovered that making improvements in the community is not always easy. Sometimes bureaucratic roadblocks get in the way of change.

“Basically we’re trying to plant wildflowers,” Ferguson said. She approached Matt Bourgeois, director of the Clifton Heights Community Urban Redevelopment Corp., about planting native wildflowers on the vacant lots.

Ferguson’s requests for permission to plant the flowers on those particular lots have been denied. “The argument is that this big field will be developed soon so they don’t want to bother putting in the flowers,” Ferguson said.

On April 26, close to 100 volunteers from the Clifton neighborhood joined 12 LEAP members in participating in Great American Cleanup. During that event, LEAP was allowed to plant native wildflowers such as cosmos, sunflowers, and zinnias along the edge of the lot bordering the parking lot and Krishna’s on McMillan.

“Those flowers will likely bloom in the late summer,” Ferguson said. “This lot was deemed by both LEAP and Matt [Bourgeois] of the Clifton Heights Community Redevelopment Corporation as a better location for the planting of wildflowers because this site will likely be the last one along this strip that will see development and may be available for planting projects such as this until then.”

Despite the unforeseen snags it encounters, LEAP and its partners are happy with the progress they have made thus far. Modawal said her goals are to sustain momentum for the long-term with ongoing events and to make the recycling process more efficient so more people can get involved.

One plan LEAP is working on is a swap meet that would be held near campus. Students could bring two items which are still in good condition but which they do not want anymore, and then they could pick two things that they would like to have, Ferguson explained.

“So you want to redecorate your room but you don’t have the money, then come to our swap meet,” Ferguson said. The swap meet will likely be held during finals week so it coordinates with the time that students are moving.

“Keep Cincinnati Beautiful did one in Northside and that was really successful,” Ferguson said.

Modawal said that she hopes LEAP’s efforts simply encourage students to try and make a difference and that they do not get overwhelmed by the process. “Whether you just participate here and there or go to one of our events, it’s about taking that step to get there,” she said. “Just making that effort to take some action can add up.”

About Jathan Fink
Jathan is a journalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He is also a travel junkie, foodie and jazz aficionado. A California native, he resides in Texas.

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