By Reilly Reynolds
Reilly Reynolds was a 2015 Project Green Challenge finalist. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University in May 2015, and is spending the next year as an Americorps VISTA with the Community Action Network of Ann Arbor. In her spare time, Reilly enjoys rock climbing, hiking, and exploring farmer’s markets in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She is passionate about food sovereignty in under-resourced and urban areas, and will someday open a farm-to-table restaurant.
I first saw the words “Project Green Challenge” on September 28th, 2015, a mere 2 days before the challenge would begin. I had been researching for senior project ideas from green colleges and universities, and had found a site with a whole calendar devoted to environmentally friendly events. The month of October had one event plastered on every single day: Project Green Challenge. Curious, I clicked on the link.
At that point in my college career, I’d been tackling environmental projects for quite a while, but was becoming more and more disenchanted with my personal environmentalist efforts as graduation neared. My showers had gotten longer, my meals consisted of frozen dinners and chips straight from the bag, and I was tired and jaded almost all of the time.
I’m not sure where the sudden nervous excitement came from that inspired me to rapidly sign up for the month long challenge. I’d never heard of Project Green Challenge or Turning Green before. I had no idea what I was about to experience. Maybe it was fate that I’d found PGC, that seems to be the only explanation looking back.
Over the course of the next month, I fell in love with sustainability in a way that I had never known in all of my years as an environmentalist. I woke up each morning with a fresh excitement for the challenges to come. In 30 days, I created all-natural DIY cleaning and body care products, planted local flowers with friends, started riding my bike more, and ate food fresh out of the garden every day. Every single one of my friends got dragged into a PGC challenge or two. I even got to take a challenge on the road with me to Chicago, where two of my close friends and I made a GMO: Right to Know video in Millennium Park.
I hit a rocky patch toward the end of October, feeling more than a little overwhelmed by my college work, my off-campus job, and the PGC Challenges. However, when I was about to give up, TG’s Executive Director Judi Shils reached out to give me the moral support I needed. She reminded me that taking care of my mind and wellbeing is just as important as protecting the planet, and that taking time for myself made me as much of an eco-leader as finishing the challenges did. It was at that point when I knew I wanted to be in touch with Turning Green and PGC for years to come.
In this day and age, it’s not always easy to find an organization that walks the walk quite like Turning Green does. Finding people who not only encourage you to dream, but also gives you the tools to do is a rare specialty, and I am thankful to have found that through PGC.
As a Project Green Challenge finalist in 2015, I had the incredible experience of traveling to California and meeting 13 amazing new friends. It did not feel like we were competing for the title of Project Green Challenge Champion, it felt like a community coming together for a common goal. We all wanted to change the world for the better. We all knew that things were happening in the environment that weren’t right. We all wanted to support and lift each other up to accomplish our dreams.
During the finals, I was inspired by people years older and younger than me – like my 16 year old roommate, who had a billion ideas for change running through her head and ready to share at all times. I was introduced to the Founders of ethical companies like Amy’s Kitchen, which, as a future farm-to-table restaurateur, was like meeting a Hollywood celebrity. I met Project Green Challenge finalists from past years and we talked about their triumphs and struggles as well as the underlying love that makes this world keep spinning in a greener direction every day. That week I found friends. I found a support system. I found a family.
I still think about Project Green Challenge as though it were yesterday. People in my life who saw how much time and effort the challenge took will ask me if I would ever do it again. My answer is always yes, in a heartbeat. The things I learned and the people I met influence my life today on a daily basis, and I am so grateful.
So for you, reader, I have only one suggestion: Take the challenge. Sign up for Project Green Challenge 2016 and your life will change like you can’t imagine!