Eco-Steward Reflection: Pondering Portlandia

by Nina Spengler (Portland ’13)

ninanarrowIt is 2014 and I am still reflecting on my time at the 2013 Eco-Stewards Program in Portland, OR.   The theme: Connectional Urban Living as Creative Response.  It was an experience that goes down as one of the best weeks of 2013 in my book.  I find my reflection easiest to explain by starting somewhere at the end.  The last night of our time together we talked about our “Eco-Faith Journeys”.  My journey was what brought me to Eco-Stewards in the first place.  It took meeting Scott Crane at the 2012 PCCCA Annual Conference and then Vickie Machado at the Compassion, Peace, and Justice Conference in 2013 to fully move me to apply for the program—apply the last possible day that is.  After much prayer and hope and asking off a week from work I heard back from Rob that I was indeed able to get a scholarship to attend.  It was a beautiful feeling to know that God had set all these people in my life to urge me on.

After arriving in Portland and meeting everyone I was impressed by the diversity of interests in our group and our shared core beliefs.  We all loved God, justice, the environment, and food.

The week was planned immaculately.  There was a lot to do and our schedule was packed!  That said we learned, to the best of our ability, how to manage our group and get to places as “on time” as possible.  Sometimes we were late but grace was always shown to us.  It was hard to pull away from one experience and rush off to the new one.  Sometimes the conversations were just too good and sometimes we couldn’t catch the bus or there was a flat bike tire.  The hospitality we were shown was beautiful; I think it was exactly what we were searching for in our connectional urban living.


It’s hard to articulate my favorite day or speaker.  Visiting the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) was a day that drew in many influences of our theme that week.  They had an incredible exhibit that talked about what sustainability really was and the factors that influenced it:  Environment, Society, and Economy.  These three pillars are the forces that drive sustainability.  If it’s good for the environment and society but not economically viable then it isn’t sustainable.  During our discussion, Kyrie Kellett, the exhibit developer, told us that a new roof would help offset the carbon footprint of OMSI.  They were, however, putting this new roof addition on hold for about five years because the roof they currently had still had life in it.  To take it down now and replace it with a new one would not be environmentally or economically wise, therefore would not be sustainable at that time.

Going back to the exhibit itself—there were many interactive displays that were set up for kids (and us of course) to get some hands-on learning accomplished.  The displays were decorated with reused materials like salvaged cabinet doors that were painted in bright colors.  What I appreciated most about the exhibit was that the signage was translated into Spanish. Kyrie told us that they worked with a translator to make sure that everything made sense to the many Spanish-speaking parents who visited with their  children.  She brought up the fact that many kids know English and end up translating the info to their parents.  This puts their parents at a disadvantage of depending on their children to relay the information and feeling a bit out of place—being lost in translation.  This entire exhibit being offered in both English and Spanish allowed freedom of exploration for everyone.  In my view, it offered a sense of inclusion for as many people as possible.  When you are looking to be sustainable you need to be connected with others and a big part of that is being able to communicate in way that everyone can understand.

Needless to say, the entire week was a loaded adventure.  Riding bikes in “pods” allowed us to group up and take different courses to get to our destinations.  That is how we all got to Eco-Stewards in the first place; our different journeys led us to Portland to be together for a week and sent us out with a renewed mind and a story to share.  Eco-Stewards allowed me to delve into the lives of others, live in a community living for a purpose, and form strong relationships.  It is surprising that we felt so unified in a week’s time.

Four months after leaving Portland, I got the chance to visit a friend in Tallahassee, FL.  The cheapest flight was to Clearwater, FL.  What did I do?  Why I drove halfway to Gainesville, FL and got to see not one but two of my Eco-Steward family members!  I arrived rather late after tons of traffic to hugs, a delightful welcome, and a delicious meal cooked by Daniel Loya (Portland ’13) and Vickie Machado (Montana ’11, Vermont ’12, Portland ’13).  I got the opportunity to stay in the Gainesville Catholic Worker House and learn more about the Catholic Worker Movement.  Friday morning we all woke up early for the Coffee Hour—a time when coffee and donated breakfast food is served to all who come.  It was a joy to serve alongside Vickie and Daniel again.  Before I left we took some crazy photos to remember our time.


Nina Spengler spent the summer after the Portland Eco-Stewards Program working as the Garden Director of a 1-acre garden at Vanderkamp Center, a Presbyterian/Lutheran summer camp, where she taught campers to identify weeds, plantings and bugs. She is currently traveling around New Zealand.