Emily Rhea

Emily discovered CSLN through Illinois Green and the Passive House community in Chicago. After studying Sustainability and Biology and holding an internship with Earthships in Taos, New Mexico, Emily cultivated an interest in building sustainability. She now works at Ecoachievers doing testing and verifications for energy ratings of buildings. Emily’s work focuses largely on giving certifications and helping certification processes for multi-family and single-family buildings. Emily lives in South Shore, where she volunteers at her church’s Food Pantry. Additionally, she assists with fundraising and event planning for Plant Chicago, a non-profit focused on building a circular economy.

What has been your personal high-point with CSLN?

Being part of the network has really shaped a lot of what my life looks like today. I started coming to meetings a little bit when I was still in college, but once I finished college I had more time so I was able to come a lot more. I met Tim Heppner through the network meetings and was really interested in his work in sustainable housing. He showed me all the equipment that he used to test buildings with and then he helped me make the connection to Eco-Achievers, where I work now. This connection to the network is where I have been able to ground my career. I also met Alvyn Walker, another resident of South Shore, who talked to me about his neighborhood and I thought the community connection was really inspiring. So, when I was looking for places to actually buy a home, Alvyn and my connection to the church community inspired me to move to the neighborhood. I think my life has been fairly impacted by CSLN. 

What did you go to school for? And were you in school around here? 

I went to school at College of DuPage at first and I did my two-year degree over there in science. Then, I finished up at Roosevelt University and I got a degree in Sustainability Studies and a minor in Biology. 

Do you have a favorite activity or experience that you’ve had with CSLN that helped you connect with other people in the networking, in particular, early on? 

Early on, there was the Just Space event, which was really inspiring, especially when I was still in college. That event made me want to be more involved because I loved learning about space and the different ways we think about space. For instance, one person might call an area blighted land but for other people that land might not be blighted for them. The space and land is part of their community. Even if you’re considering it from a nature standpoint, nature is taking that area back over. So what is space? What is justice in terms of space? Is it just a space or is it really more than that? 

Photo: Maura Parker

To you what makes CSLN unique and sets it apart from other volunteer networks and experiences?

A couple of things come to mind. I tend to only volunteer with groups where you’re really doing something and getting something done which is, I like to feel productive. So, that’s one of the things I like about CSLN. We have bigger meetings and we have our real time to socialize but there is still an agenda. People can get together in this group and raise their own thing to talk about. If you have something you really want to put on the table and you want other people’s perspective on it, it is easy to have conversations about it. Which is great because it is a space for people who want to brainstorm and pick apart that issue with you. It is really nice to have at your fingertips. But also, having the break-out sections in between the big meetings is great if you’re in a specific group. You can continue to work on projects that you are passionate about if you want to make change in the city. Being involved in the policy group makes things happen. 

If you have something you really want to put on the table and you want other people’s perspective on it, it is easy to have conversations about it. Which is great because it is a space for people who want to brainstorm and pick apart that issue with you.

What specific groups are you in?

I am in touch with the policy team but have mostly worked on events. The last two-years we did a series of events where we tried to have events in different areas in the city to merge and bridge gaps. We have been finding it hard to convince people from one area of the city to come to another area of the city for an event. We had one gardening event in Austin last year that I thought was really interesting. We invited some young people, some older people, and just tried to bridge a whole bunch of people across intergenerational gaps and gaps between nature and people. It has been fun!

Photo: Maura Parker

Which of those gaps have you seen CLSN have a direct impact on and what it is about?

I have definitely seen the gap between nature and people. I have been trying to help introduce people to nature in spots that they did not know existed or did not consider before. But I think the intergenerational piece has also been great. Just get people together from different age groups and put them in a space where they are doing something different when they are interacting with nature.  I have appreciated the intergenerational piece the most. 

Is there a specific spot in Chicago that you did not know previously how to garden or space of nature that you became really interested in after one of the meetings? 

Our last bike ride we went all over Bronzeville. I did not know about most of those places and I thought a lot of them were very cool. I still haven’t figured out where one of them is. Where was that because we biked there you know? I thought this was awesome to find areas that you didn’t know about. I had never been to Sacred Keepers garden either, so that was nice to see.

Author: accele11