A Rocha works with congregations and communities of faith around the country to promote creation care, but did you know we also work with students? Meredith Schellhase is the current president of the A Rocha USA Partners @ Wheaton College in Illinois. We caught up with her to see what kind of environmental stewardship activities the Wheaton group is engaged in.
Can you give a brief overview of Wheaton A Rocha? What are the group’s primary focuses and activities?
Wheaton A Rocha was started by students to celebrate God’s creation and to encourage our campus to become more sustainable. To do this most effectively, Wheaton A Rocha holds one-time events as well as an ongoing Garden Club and Recycling Committee. Campus-wide events are planned by our cabinet, and they often highlight how different groups on campus or the surrounding community are caring for creation. For example, in the 2017 spring semester, we invited students to take a trip to The Plant in Chicago. The Plant is a business model in which several businesses create their products in the same building, and the waste of those products is used by one of the other businesses for their products, and so on. The system is incredibly efficient and the trip reminded us that sustainability can be practical and serve the community.
Meanwhile, the Garden Club serves our campus by using hydroponics to grow herbs for our cafeteria. Additionally, they have worked with the grounds keeping department to help Wheaton College become a tree campus. Finally, the Recycling Committee works with dormitories and facilities management to promote recycling on campus. For example, the Recycling Committee ran a dorm training in which students had a chance to learn about the more confusing aspects of our recycling system; many were surprised to learn that the paper cups from some of our food services are not recyclable.
How did you first hear about A Rocha? What drew you to it? Were you already interested in conservation/creation care, or was it new to you?
Before coming to campus, I read through all of the clubs on the college website, and I was definitely attracted to the A Rocha group. I believe in caring for the environment, and I thought it would be neat to be in a community that also cared about it. However, I did not know what being in an environmental stewardship club would look like. So when Wheaton’s Club Fair came around, I signed up for the A Rocha email list.
A few weeks later, I got an email inviting me to participate in Green Expo by creating a station. Not entirely knowing what I was getting myself into, I went to the info meeting and I realized I had accidentally committed to being involved. Over the next month I worked to create a station that explained how different types of electricity are generated, and I showed up to Green Expo curious to see how it would go. All in all, it went well, and as I was explaining energy usage to people, I overheard the Recycling Committee, the station next to mine, help students learn the nuances of our recycling system. When some downtime came around, I got to talking with them and they invited me to join them. I’ve been involved ever since. I am so grateful for my accidental commitment to this club. It has been my absolute pleasure to work with peers who care about the environment.
Why do you think it’s important for college students to be engaged in these issues?
At Wheaton A Rocha, we are asking our community to recognize our Christian call to love our neighbors, and we believe that one of the most practical ways we can do that is through environmental stewardship. College is a time where so much of the world becomes available through study and campus involvement, and environmental stewardship is a way of learning just how connected the world is and how your actions influence the world. Everyday choices become endowed with significance when viewed through this lens. No longer am I simply recycling, but I am choosing to have a product be useful for society instead of a contaminant.
However, pretty quickly you recognize the smallness of these actions and the need for our community to grow and change into a more sustainable place. I cannot change the course of climate change by myself. I can only act in obedience to what I know and lovingly invite those around me to do the same. That’s why I need my fellow college students to join me; real change comes when we act together.
How have you seen yourself, the club’s leadership, participants, and your campus community change as a result of Wheaton A Rocha’s activities?
Before joining Wheaton A Rocha, I was pretty cynical about my fellow Christians’ response to the environment. However, caring for the environment with a group of dedicated believers has given me a lot of hope. It gives me hope that there are thousands of people across the United States and the world who care about God’s creation, and it inspires me to become even more thoughtful about how I engage in environmental issues.
Wheaton A Rocha also gives me hope that our campus can change. One of our most successful campaigns was encouraging our cafeteria to go tray-less. When students do not use trays in the cafeteria, they get more realistic amounts of food, and they significantly cut down on food waste. This simple change helps me believe that other simple changes on our campus are possible.
What are you most looking forward to this year?
As always, one of the things I am most excited about is working with really excellent people. Every year I work with Wheaton A Rocha I get to meet some of our campus’s most thoughtful, fun, and interesting students and faculty. More specifically, I’m excited to partner with different student organizations to create a prayer day for this year’s Season of Creation. I look forward to praying with my brothers and sisters as we ask God to heal our world and help us act in obedience in how we use our resources.
If you are a school, church, organization, or community group eager to do hands-on conservation in your place, consider partnering with us. Get more information and tell us about your project here.