Reflections on Leading a Summer of Solutions Program- 2 Years Later

I can literally say that being a program leader with the Twin Cities Summer of Solutions in 2011 was more educational than college. Planning and leading a program gave me a unique opportunity to pick up skills that many people do not gain until much later in life on a more traditional career path. I loved the work of developing the program, even the less exciting bits like creating a budget, writing grants, hiring program leaders, and allocating funding to participant applications, because I knew how much I was learning through every step of the process.

It was also so rewarding to be working in an environment where I was my own boss at age 20. I collaborated with an incredible team of co-leaders and we had a really strong system of holding each other accountable to our commitments, just based on the understanding that our program would suffer if we didn’t all step up. Even though most of my work planning the program was done remotely, I honestly looked forward to our conference calls a surprising amount, just based on how much I liked working with my team.

As carefully as we planned the summer, once the program started, it was a little like diving off the deep end, with the varied responsibilities of running a bunch of different projects and planning ongoing training sessions. Fortunately, this forced me to really learn how to swim. I learned how to plan trainings in a couple hours, where it would have taken me days just a few months before. I learned how to problem solve about anything that could and world arise, from interpersonal issues with participants to unresponsive residents we contacted in our energy efficiency campaign.

I think my experience planning and leading a SoS program was a big asset in helping me get my current job coordinating a program called Green Jobs Green New York at the Pratt Center for Community Development in Brooklyn, NY. Green Jobs Green New York has a remarkable similar mission to the work I was doing through the Twin Cities Summer of Solutions program, in terms of building sustainable and economically just communities from the bottom up through energy efficiency and job creation. Being a program leader with SoS gave me a really strong base to continue my work both in and outside of Grand Aspirations to create an economy in harmony with nature that allows all people to thrive.

If you’re interested in planning and leading a Summer of Solutions program, check out the application at The deadline to apply is coming up on October 19. As you might be able to tell, I can’t recommend it highly enough. 

My Work

When I journal or write things that are only meant for me to write, I often use this term called ‘my work.’  I don’t mean my job, like the thing that makes me money. I don’t mean checking things off of my to-do list. I mean the ‘work’ that when I say it, sends tingles down my spine and makes my heart smile. It’s the work of joining with millions of other people, some of whom I know, some of whom I will never meet, to collectively heal our world.

The distinctive thing about ‘my work,’ and the thing that makes me feel so good when I say it, is that it really is work. It’s slow, and incremental, and not always glamorous or even visible. It’s copy and pasting data into a spreadsheet for hours late into the night, and knocking on doors in the blazing heat, and making dozens of phone calls inviting people to community meetings.  It’s spending  a week to prepare a two-hour anti-oppression workshop, and spending six weeks to organize a two- hour community energy forum, and spending seven months to plan an eight-week summer program, simply trusting that each will have an impact to justify all that time.

This ‘work’ is so powerful because it is a true expression of deep love for the world, and hope for the future. I was introduced to this concept at a summer camp where I worked two years ago, where the phrase “Work is love made visible” was often thrown around. However, it was not until Summer of Solutions that I fully understood what this means.  My work with Summer of Solutions helped me fully embody the idea that to work in developing the green economy is not just about getting things done, but also about continuously enacting our loving the world.

This concept is expressed beautifully by the poet Kahlil Gibran, who writes:

“Always you have been told that work is a curse and labour a misfortune.
But I say to you that when you work you fulfill a part of earth’s furthest dream, assigned to you when that dream was born,
And in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth loving life,
And to love life through labour is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret.”

This other important thing about ‘my work’ is that it really is mine. As Gibran puts it, the work that we do was assigned to us when the Earth’s dream that we are fulfilling was born.  ‘My work’ is beyond my choice. It seems too integral to my being to be something I could ever get disillusioned about.

My goal as I leave Summer of Solutions and begin a year of launching a brand new program (New York City- it’s on!) is to carry my passion for ‘my work’ into all my interactions. My hope is that I can engage new people in this movement by fully demonstrating that this work makes me feel fulfilled and happy and grounded, not just when I win or succeed, but just because I’m doing ‘my work.’

Elana Bulman- Twin Cities Program Leader

My Education

Today, I helped facilitate a session for the Twin Cities program to review our personal goals from training week. One of the questions we asked participants to reflect upon was “How would it feel to fall short of meeting your goals this summer?” I remember that when I was asked this question on my first day of Summer of Solutions as participant last summer, my response was something like “I would feel hopeless…like I couldn’t breathe.” This year, the first thing that came to my head was “If I fail to meet my goals this summer, I will sure learn a lot about how I can improve.”

This transition from responding to challenges with despair to responding to challenges with curiosity, perseverance, and optimism is one of the key things I have gained from working with Summer of Solutions. I think this switch comes from the value I now place on learning as an end in itself. I find that the way I approach my work as a solutionary is generally more effective when I stop focusing on what I want the results of my work to be, and rather be attentive to how whatever I am doing is preparing me to take on even greater things. Through the long hours I spent this year doing sometimes tedious work of writing grants, making color-coded spreadsheets, and wading through difficult conversations, my mantra was consistently “This is how I learn.”

I’ve realized this school year that Summer of Solutions is significantly more educational for me than any schooling that money can buy. I often feel that my university does not take education seriously enough to prepare me to be the person I need to be to make the changes I want to make. On the other hand, Summer of Solutions is a space that I feel encourages each of us to identify what it is we need to learn and take responsibility for making it happen.

One of my favorite things about our program this year is that it is an incredible learning community. Throughout each week, we have sessions scheduled for learning about the green economy, urban farming, and anti-oppression for collective liberation. For each of these sessions, the group identifies what we want to learn about the topic and then searches through the collective knowledge of the SoS participants to find someone who can teach us what we want to know. If no one in the group knows about it, the chances are pretty high that one of us knows someone else who does. Or, someone will step up to first research the topic and then become a teacher for the rest of the group. Summer of Solutions does not make the trainers and facilitators out to be the experts, but rather people who are stepping up to learning through the process of teaching and leading.  

I think one of the most distinctive features of the SoS Twin Cities program is the culture of “I act not because I know what I am doing, but because only through acting do I have any hope of learning what to do and only through acting do I have any hope at all.” The amazing thing about this focus on learning is that does not conflict with achieving tangible results. Rather, it means that I care about this work too much to get in my own way by imagining that I know it all already.

Where the Youth Climate Movement Needs to Grow

The youth climate movement has become very good at articulating what we don’t want. At Power Shift, we fully exercised our ability to condemn dirty energy. We demanded that Lisa Jackson put a ban on fracking. We marched on big polluters and their allies like the Chamber of Commerce and the Department of the Interior. We heard Tim DeChristopher put out a call for thousands of activists to collectively shut down coal plants.

Power Shift demonstrated the energy and passion the youth climate movement brings to stopping the polluters who are creating chaos on our earth. But we as a movement have a long way to go in promoting what we do want, and more importantly, knowing how we are going to get there.

 Its one thing to shut down a coal plant, but it’s only going to hurt the neighboring community if we don’t have an alternative energy system ready to take its place. Its one thing to know that Monsanto is “evil” but it’s a whole different level if you know how to produce sustainable agriculture. Its one thing to chant “Clean energy now!” but you’re going to be much more convincing if you understand how to make renewable energy economically viable.

That’s where programs like Summer of Solutions come in. Summer of Solutions is a 2-month program that trains participants how to develop the green economy by creating hands-on, community-based solutions to climate change. Throughout the summer, participants learn not just what is wrong with the current system, but also how to make changes that integrate climate and energy solutions, economic security, and social justice.  

 At Power Shift, Summer of Solutions leaders and past participants, known as “Solutionaries”, ran around with jumbo sunglasses that we called the “Solutionary Lens”. We encouraged people to look through the Solutionary Lens to discover how it feels to use an actively participatory approach to create holistic solutions that confront a broad range of local and global problems through people power, rather than addressing individual issues. The Solutionary Lens views economic collapse, global development, local inequalities and global justice, environmental sustainability and personal fulfillment as not only linked, but sharing the same root causes and transformative solutions. 

This summer, there will be 15 programs across the country engaging in their own green economy development projects. We will pioneer urban agriculture ventures, retrofit homes and businesses, create distributed renewable energy opportunities, make biking more accessible, and work towards green manufacturing facilities. Each program engages in its own solutions, which you can learn more about at

The final deadline to apply as a full-time participant for Summer of Solutions is THIS SUNDAY, April 24 at midnight, PST. Part-time volunteer participants can apply up until the summer.  The application is available at There are need-based stipends available for participation, and we will do our best to support you this summer. With just a few days until the deadline, don’t wait to apply for a transformative experience that will provide you with the tools you need to bring the youth climate movement to a new level of understanding not only what the problems are, but how we can create solutions.