CHERYL GERBER PHOTOGRAPHS
Can one organization educate New Orleans citizens about environmental health – in a positive, helpful way?
Anne Rolfes, founder of the LA Bucket Brigade, thinks so. She is dedicated to helping New Orleanians educate themselves about issues affecting the local environment – and she strives to do so in a friendly, inviting way, eschewing the stereotype of the “rabid activist.” Indeed, the bustling LA Bucket Brigade office on Canal Street is filled with welcoming people who are dedicated to helping locals gain a better understanding of environmental health.
A Lafayette native, Anne Rolfes discovered a passion for helping others while serving the Peace Corps in Nigeria. Although she loved working abroad, Rolfes returned home to Louisiana with the goal of raising awareness about issues that affect the state’s environment. She founded the Louisiana Bucket Brigade in 2000.
The EPA-approved “bucket” is a simple, community friendly tool that people who live next to industry – fenceline neighbors – can use to take air samples. This data can then be used to document pollution levels in neighborhoods, providing citizens with important information about their local air quality. The bucket helps ordinary citizens get involved in conservation efforts.
Rolfes has a positive vision for Louisiana’s environmental – and economic – future. She encourages residents to think differently about Louisiana’s business opportunities. Along these lines, she notes that environmental initiatives, such as the Bucket Brigade, are job-creators that hire local talent and manufacture specialized equipment. Although change may occur slowly in the short term, Rolfes says that looking to the future, say the next 100 years, Louisiana could move its economic base toward more sustainable, less polluting, industries.
The growth of environmental awareness in New Orleans continues to inspire Rolfes. She notes that when she discusses environmental issues in Louisiana, people usually agree that things are out of balance, but many don’t know where to begin. She encourages every New Orleanian to “Educate yourself and act!”
Of course, like everything else, environmental awareness gets its own unique spin in New Orleans. Rolfes says that she recently attended a community event organized to address climate change – in the form of a more than 200-person second-line.
The LA Bucket Brigade welcomes donations and local funders. Furthermore, volunteers of all abilities are needed for data entry, video editing and human resources work.