Our Solutionary Power

This post is by Eli Shepherd, a program leader with the Iowa City, Iowa program.

This summer, the Iowa City Summer of Solutions (ICSoS) Our Power project hosted two public forums on rental energy efficiency issues. With all stakeholders working collaboratively- tenants, landlords, utilities, city officials, and community members- we developed a comprehensive list of barriers to energy efficiency for both tenants and landlords, as well as possible solutions. We then, with the help of a local energy efficiency consultant, developed a comprehensive recommendation to Iowa City City Council based on the most feasible solutions. Kira Stoller of the ICSoS Our Power team then prepared and presented our recommendation to council during the community comment period at the most recent council meeting and we will continue to communicate with the city in order to, with any luck, implement much if not all of our recommendations. Without further ado, here is what we came to council with, hope you like it!

Part of the Iowa City Our Power team following the first public forum.

Part of the Iowa City Our Power team following the first public forum.

Council Speech Continue reading

Sustainable Art at Summer’s End

By Kate Johnson of the Iowa City, Iowa program.
This summer must have big plans for something fun in the fall, because it sure is in a hurry to get there! It has been a whirlwind of a few months here at Summer of Solutions in Iowa City, and we’ve been making the most of it in the ‘Sustainable Art’ group under the direction of Nick Gerken.  Though we have been sparsely populated, we’ve had some great assistance from our friends in ‘Our Power’ and ‘Iowa City Roots’.  With whoever we could grab, we have traveled to camps all summer, working on crafts with kids and talking to them about the environment.
These camps include Taproot, Pheasant Ridge, and two Wildlife camps (Hawk and Fox).  At Pheasant Ridge, we had the same group of kids that all live in the same neighborhood every Wednesday.  We did many projects with them and got to spend a lot of time with them.  Some of our crafts included weaving mats, pinwheels, and birdhouses.  We really enjoyed our time there, which we wrapped up July 31 by going to a nearby park after making parachute toys with plastic bags.  It brings a smile to my face when I think of some of the things our Pheasant Ridge kids talked to us about, even though we sometimes struggled to keep them on task. Continue reading

Painting Windows and Building Community

By William Perry of the Iowa City, Iowa program

After a week long orientation with our group leaders Nick Gerken, Eli Shepherd, and Kate Anstreicher, we split up into subgroups run by each leader geared toward specific causes.  Eli is in charge of ‘Our Power,’ which is an energy sustainability initiative with an end goal of addressing the split incentive issue for city counsel in regards to rental properties in Iowa City.  Kate leads ‘Iowa City Roots,’ which is a community gardening force working with the Iowa City landfill to implement a composting collection service for downtown businesses.  Then there is ‘Sustainable Art,’ the program that I am in.  Nick heads this subgroup and our weekly activities for a range of summer camps with the goal of educating about waste and waste management through hands on activities and recycled artwork.  Our group of about four people just recently came up with an idea we are very excited about: downtown window painting.

Children painting windows as part of the Iowa City Downtown District’s ‘Kidows’ initiative. Continue reading

Let the Solutionary Summer Commence

By: Eli Shepherd from Iowa City Summer of Solutions

The end of fall marked the rekindling of planning and organization. Winter came and plans were made, the leadership team organized. January rolled around and said team journeyed to Chicago for several days of intensive and enlightening training. Spring brought both metaphorical April showers and May flowers as plans and programs were dreamed up, debated, shot down, and solidified. Participant applications and grants alike came sporadically. Now it all comes down to summer.

The turning of the calendar to June marks the start of the Summer of Solutions. So, while program leaders like myself, Nick, and Kate (our 2013 leadership team) are scrambling to master our trainings and tie down the loose ends before our June 10 start date here in sunny, flooded Iowa City, I thought I would share an anecdote and a recipe from here in Iowa City! Continue reading

A Year of Solutions

This post is by Kwame Ntiri Owusu-Daaku, program leader at Iowa City Summer of Solutions.

I can’t believe I have changed this much in a year. I can’t believe I’ve stayed involved this much for a year either. What started out as a the need to find a summer internship in Iowa City has turned into an amazing journey of discovery from which I’m moving on to a PhD in Geography in which I plan to focus on development and climate change adaptation.


Kwame learns to caulk a window.

I came to Iowa City in August 2011 to begin a Masters in Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Iowa. Before then, climate change for me was something Americans and Europeans rambled on about. Coming from Ghana, I was more concerned about social and economic sustainability than environmental protection and preservation. For me then, the tensions inherent in environment versus people and economy saw an obvious winner – I wasn’t about to let people continue to be impoverished while the ground lay fallow. I’ve expanded my thought processes since then and now I have no clear cut solutions. Continue reading

Inspiration to Join Summer of Solutions 2013 by April 14th!

The 2013 Summer of Solutions programs are accepting participant applications until April 14th!  Apply here!  Keep reading to learn about the life-changing experience that Summer of Solutions was for our alumni!

1Emily Stiever: “It was one of the first times where I could see what my life could look like in the future: the ability to work on social issues that I cared about and to live sustainably in community with people who shared a similar passion.” Read more…

1Ashley Trull: “I learned how to have creative confidence, which to me is being willing to put yourself and your ideas out there, boldly, knowing that you have the skills and resources within yourself and your community to make it a reality.” Read more…

1Nathaniel Cook: “Summer of Solutions was probably the most influential experience that I have ever had, and it has shaped me, my experiences, and my relationships ever since.” Read more…

1Shoshana Blank: “Even as young college students, we were able to do some big things in Summer of Solutions-Twin Cities because we were well organized. We could offer solutions to community members and be taken seriously because we had a plan of action and materials to back us up.”  Read more…

1Colin Higgins: “One of the main things that I took away is that I really enjoy teaching others, especially youth, about environmental issues and solutions.” Read more…

1Cecelia Watkins: “The greatest thing I took with me was a deep sense of practical empowerment—a sense that money is far from the only resource we can leverage for change, a sense that we are rich in those other resources.” Read more…

1Brianna Besch: “I still remember the first week of Summer of Solutions training as one of the most inspiring things I have ever done.” Read more…

2Ethan Viets-Vanlear: “SoS really taught me a way to help a community without being part of various systems of oppression and control that dominate most organizations and institutions in our society.” Read more…

Inspired yet?
Become a solutionary and apply to join Summer of Solutions 2013!

During the Summer of Solutions, you will receive training in community organizing and sustainable community development techniques. You will use these skills to demonstrate the promise of energy efficiency, community-based energy, green industry, local food production, and/or smart design as described in the locations you choose. Beyond the concrete skills you learn, Summer of Solutions will be a really fun community-based experience. It is a great chance to grow with, learn from, and work with other incredible young people and community leaders who are building a better future.

Now accepting participant applications: Arleta, CA; Chicago, IL; Hartford, CT; Iowa City, IA; Ithaca, NY; Johnson City, TN; Lexington, KY; Little Rock, AR; Middleton, WI; Oakland, CA; Raleigh, NC; Southern West Virginia; Twin Cities, MN; and Washington, DC!

Applications are due on 4/14/2013. Some programs may keep their local applications open beyond 4/14, but there is no guarantee that any specific program will do so.

Find more details and the online application here!

New Recruit at January Gathering

Imagine this.

You’ve just been accepted as a new intern for a Summer of Solutions program…let’s say Iowa City.  Aside from being jubilant with excitement, you read further down the email and find out that your cohorts will, in a little over a week, be hopping into a car and spending five days (at an undisclosed location) preparing for skill sets in leadership for the summer’s program.  You are enthusiastically welcomed (and subtly encouraged) to join the group on this outing.  Perplexed, you scratch your head.  You are new (not only to January Gathering, but to Summer of Solutions), but ambitious.  As such, you reply that you will be joining the crew for the January Gathering in Chicago.  You are set in your decision, though wondering who the members of your chapter are, what Grand Aspirations actually is, and, perhaps, how you got into the position that you’re in right now.  The feeling of affirmation and mild terror dance in your stomach.

This is exactly (and candidly) what happened to me the week and a half right before January Gathering.  Rest assured, I made it to and from Chicago in one piece and perhaps more importantly, I made it back a more ambitious person.  While I can only speak for myself and my experience with those that make Grand Aspirations grand, going to a January Gathering is as much a baptism by fire as it is a chance to find a genuine community of quality people who WILL make the world a better place.  There’s something to be said about jumping into the back seat of a Suburu Outback with two young guys, a young girl and her mother (the driver) and having enough humility to learn that those in the car with you are going to become some of the most impressive people you’ve ever met.  And that’s before even getting to Chicago. Continue reading

Local Solutionary Stories

Eli Shepherd’s Story

As is the tradition, many folks like to use the beginning of the year to reflect on the past year, and also to look forward, to set, if you will, their Grand Aspirations for the year ahead. As a 2013 program leader with the Iowa City Summer of Solutions program, I am just too excited to keep my Grand Aspirations for the program from the rest of the world.

I stumbled into Summer of Solutions in June of 2012- rather, I came across a Facebook post soliciting “solutionaries,” and subsequently walked over to a church basement in downtown Iowa City in June of 2012- and at first had no idea what to think. There was one really excited person who greeted me at the door, one person who I later discovered was also in high school, several people who attended the University of Iowa, several people who were studying engineering, and enough chairs and pumpkin muffins for the whole lot of us. By the end of our training week I knew I had found a home but it wasn’t until early August that I became truly invested in the work.

Continue reading

All Solutionary Systems Go!

Summer is back already!..wait, it’s not? Well, with sixty degree weather in November and December it sure feels like it. The physical season of summer may not be here but the problem-solving and action-oriented spirit of summer which earns us the name “solutionary” is most certainly in full swing.

Iowa City solutionaries hard at work at Wildwoods Farm in Solon, Iowa.

Iowa City solutionaries hard at work at Wildwoods Farm in Solon, Iowa.

Since a group of us Iowa Citians got back from the 2012 Grand Aspirations August Gathering, we have been quite a busy bunch. For starters, we have applied for two grants for our energy efficiency campaign Our Power. The funding organizations were the United States Climate Action Network (USCAN) and RE-AMP, a network of Midwest nonprofits and foundations working to reduce global warming pollution. We successfully secured the RE-AMP grant. In fact we were awarded $5,000 over our expected amount, allocated for the purpose of hiring consultant to help us identify viable ways of engaging landlords in our campaign for city-wide energy efficiency. We could not have achieved this without the hard work and dedication of our program leaders Nick Gerken and Zach Gruenhagen. Most exciting, and frightening, of all, was that in the message accompanying our RE-AMP grant, we were referred to by the grant selection committee as the only youth doing solutionary work in the state of Iowa. Needless to say we’re determined to live up to our status. Continue reading

Iowa City making noise

It’s been an exciting week in Iowa City. One of our program leaders – Zach Wahls, maybe you’ve heard of him – has been fighting hard for marriage equality across the nation the past few months. He gave a speech a while back to the Iowa legislature, and it’s been blowing up the Internet (again). It recently hit 12 million views – woah.

It’s pretty easy to be proud of our friend. It’s also been pretty easy to get excited for this upcoming summer. We continue to work on projects from this past summer and have been planning away for new ones.

Update on 2011

IC is on the verge of something great. Our Solar Schools project – an initiative to install solar panels on two local schools in the Iowa City Community School District – has grown tremendously. After working with the school district, the project now includes at least 10 schools, and our team has been working tirelessly to get this passed. If the project is approved, it will be the largest solar project network hosted by a public school system in the nation.

Looking forward – 2012 projects

Our Power: Born in the Twin Cities, the Our Power program is a home weatherization initiative for low-income households in the Iowa City area. The program combines strong outreach and educational components focused on energy/environmental benefits of winterizing homes, the effect on residents’ energy bills and local resources for homeowners and renters. We recently received an $8k grant from Re-Amp, an alliance of foundations focused on clean energy issues, to get the project off the ground.

Iowa City Roots: Jumping on the local food bandwagon is easy to do in Iowa City, where our community’s educators, farmers, expert gardeners, parents and students all have a common goal: feed our kids with fresh, local and HEALTHY foods! We’re in the planning stages of this bloomin’ awesome project, which aims to construct and maintain 6 community gardens in public parks and schoolyards throughout the growing season of 2012. Partnering with the Parks and Recreation department of the City of Iowa City, the ICCSD, the Johnson County Local Food Alliance and dozens of community members, we have received a bounty of support thus far; the planning will continue through the dormant winter months as we secure land and funding–be on the lookout for things to start sprouting up come March!

Internship program: We working with the University of Iowa Career Center to create internship opportunities for U of I students interested in gardening, green economy work, clean energy issues and other community-based projects. Our team incorporates leadership development and youth empowerment in all aspects of our organization, making us aptly suited to be a Community Based Learning partner with the University. We are also working with professionals in local green businesses to match interested interns with sustainable companies in need of help and innovation.

White Roof and Neighborhood Compost Pilot projects: still in preliminary stages, these two projects aim to involve community members in simple intiatives that make a big impact. White roofs are perhaps the easiest way to engage businesses in sustainability, and with a lively downtown business community, we hope to provide white roofing services while partnering with local hardware and home improvement stores. The Neighborhood Compost Pilot is a branch of Iowa City roots, and hopes to bring composting intiatives to the community garden centers we’ll be working with.

Who we are

Our team is led by Zach Gruenhagen, Hadley Rapp, Zach Wahls, Tom Frakes, Eleanor Marshall and Kerri Sorrell. All of us are Iowa City natives or students at the University of Iowa. We’re committed to building a model of sustainability in Iowa City, one that can hopefully be replicated in other parts of our state. Iowa may be small, but we’ve got a lot of potential to do big things in this unique community.

Interested in keeping up with Iowa City Summer of Solutions? Check us out on Facebook, Twitter and at iowacitysos.org. We can’t wait for what promises to be an exciting, exhausting and exhilarating summer.

p.s. – Did you know Grand Aspirations is in the running to win $25K in the Pepsi Refresh Project? We’re working with the Progressive Slate to fund-raise towards our amazing programs and leaders. You can vote every day in December, so mark your calendars! Share this link: http://bit.ly/sWzLvl with your friends online and help us spread the word! Go team!