Amidst a growing trend of partisanship, power struggles, dissension and rancor between our political leaders, public institutions, social groups and environmental policy makers, Clackamas Community College deserves respect, support and appreciation. They are now moving a community project from the past forward into the 21st century. It is the John Inskeep Environmental Learning Center and their approach is now bathing it in an atmosphere of unity and enthusiasm. How did this come to pass?
Two years ago preparations were underway at CCC to celebrate the college's 50th anniversary. As a commemorative gift to the community, the college chose to contribute a "living legacy" that consisted of restoring the headwaters of Newell Creek at the Environmental Learning Center on the college campus.
CCC President Joanne Truesdell, Vice President of College Relations Shelly Parini, their board and dedicated staff members secured (on behalf of CCC) the largest Metro Nature in the Neighborhood grant ever given. Its purpose was to rehabilitate and restore the headwaters of Newell Creek at the ELC.
In support of the physical enhancements to the site, CCC pledged to create an environmental education program that furthered the ELC's once vibrant role in educating, demonstrating and conducting "effective environmentalism."
Metro's benevolent gift started the project of planning for improvements and integration of assets created by the community in the past. Adjusting the community design to include and purpose the site as a modern stormwater enhancement facility required compromise and creativity. Metro's Earth-honoring gift would also lead to other investments by past and new partners, it was hoped.
Fortunately for all concerned, Parini had received training in a process called "appreciative inquiry." The process focuses on asking questions as well as deeply listening to answers. It seeks contribution of knowledge, ideas and visions from "invested" individual community members regardless of their credentialing, rank or political views. It seeks community input and support at the beginning of the process not just at the end. It honors the past while envisioning and creating the future. In short, it works!
Through this process, extensive interviews from past visionaries during the ELC's "golden years" were conducted and recorded. In this way, design elements, educational curriculum, innovative programs and the spark of enthusiasm and commitment that infused the original ELC pioneers was not lost.
Members of the community also were asked to share their values about the environment, education and the ELC and these ideas and values were integrated into the plans for the future. Dean of College Services Bob Cochran and Dr. Renee Harbor were then responsible for facilitating physical improvements that would, ultimately, advance the physical center and support exceptional environmental education.
All of us learned to take a second look at what we had before we dismantled it and got something new. Consideration was given in the new design plan to carefully discern what landscaping and physical structures should be left in place and integrated into the new plan rather than eliminated. It saved time. It saved money. It led to a better plan.
By asking (appreciative inquiry, again), attention was called to those things people value and believe bring meaning to our community and shared environment. We learned to be better stewards of what we have, while being open to change and improvement.
So kudos to Clackamas Community College because they chose to demonstrate a path of excellence — one that honored, appreciated, utilized and integrated the creativity, commitment and innovation of the past through open dialogue and appreciative inquiry. They chose and created a path that will yield "exceptionalism" as the headwaters of Newell Creek are restored, the beautiful grounds of the ELC come back to life and the CCC establishes itself as a leader in environmental education.
We are honored to have been a part of this process and can attest to its remarkable effectiveness as an instrument of consensus and community building. We encourage parents, "citizens," their governments, economic development leaders and others to approach projects and life in this collaborative and celebratory way. We encourage those who embark on new projects to consider first what past investments of time, energy, passion and money can be integrated and utilized in their new "plan."
Let us all consider following the same path as Clackamas Community College as we seek to create workable solutions to our lives in the 21st century: solutions that honor agreement, not dissention. And, above all, solutions that honor the planet and its resources that sustain all life — including our own.
Sha Spady has been a determined advocate for wise management and preservation of natural systems and worked with the community to protect and enhance Newell Creek Canyon in Oregon City. Jerry Herrmann is a founder and former director of the Environmental Learning Center.