Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Program (ETA) alumna Erika Mork (South Korea, 2001-2002) saw a need in her community of Lynchburg, Virginia, where she works with non-profits to help them build their capacity and fulfill their missions to better serve their communities. As in many small cities across America, composting services are not readily available in Lynchburg. After attending the Alumni Thematic International Exchange Seminar (TIES) on Climate Change, Digital Technology, and Global Affairs in California in 2016, Erika teamed up with Fulbright-Hays Program alumna Dr. Maria Nathan, who is a management professor at Lynchburg College, along with other college faculty and the executive director of a local farm to launch a composting pilot in Lynchburg.
Made possible through an Alumni TIES small grant, their project, Building Soil and Community: An Educational Composting Pilot, aimed to reduce the production of greenhouse gases while restoring the nutrient cycle by making composting more readily available to the citizens of Lynchburg. But it was more than a composting project -- it was about building community awareness. The project brought together students and faculty from local colleges, local volunteers, and Lynchburg Grows, a non-profit urban farm. Over eight workshops, the project educated 280 community members about composting and its tie to the larger food system. Volunteers donated more than 2,736 hours of their time to the project.
While the TIES grant has ended, community composting continues in Lynchburg and composting education has been integrated into other programs at the Lynchburg Grows farm. The project has kept more than two tons of food scraps from individuals and restaurants out of landfills.
According to the Director of Lynchburg Grows, “Everyone is involved. They bring their buckets back every week and they dump it in and they’re excited about seeing how many pounds they have that week.” She added, “It’s great that the climate is changing in Lynchburg as far as that goes and I’m excited to be a part of that.”
Alumni Thematic Exchange Seminars (TIES) are regionally-focused gatherings for U.S. government-sponsored exchange program alumni. Participants explore issues of shared value, receive training, and collaborate with fellow alumni to implement projects upon their return home. Through the small grants initiative, alumni have the opportunity to take action and make a positive difference in their communities.