Paying it forward: WMEAC's 45th anniversary a time to thank them, and one former stranger!

One night in the late 1980s I wandered unannounced into Grand Rapids' Fountain Street Church for a meeting of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC). I had a vague idea that I'd like to write something about "The Environment" for the Grand Rapids-based chain of weekly newspapers I was working for, and an "environmental council" seemed a likely spot to find such a story. Beyond that, I was as clueless as a 24-year-old could be.

I remember following little of the discussion that evening. It was complicated. And fascinating. When the meeting adjourned I trudged up to Julie Stoneman - a WMEAC staffer at the time - and asked her to explain something.

I cannot remember the topic. Combined sewer overflows maybe? Nor how long Julie spent patiently outlining the rudimentary facts of the issue at hand. But it seemed like hours, and may well have been. Everyone was gone when we were done. I departed with two new things: a good story, and an appreciation of the kindness, patience and passion of a stranger who went out of her way to help out a ridiculously uninformed cub reporter.

WMEAC - and Julie - became a go-to source for my environmental work for the next several years. They laid the foundation for my interest in environmental reporting and, later, advocacy.

Julie would move on to work at MEC and in the state's land conservancy community, most recently as associate director for Heart of the Lakes Center for Land Conservation Policy. She emailed me this week, asking a small favor. Would I use MEC's social media to publicize WMEAC's 45th anniversary celebration event next week Tuesday in Grand Rapids?

I will. Because WMEAC (an "original six" MEC member group) does great work. And because Julie asked me.

This world is full of pithy quotations and anecdotes about how we ought to be nicer, more generous and friendlier - because you never know when a small kindness will be paid forward exponentially. If Julie had been rushed and short with me that evening it might not have mattered. I may have become an environmental reporter and communicator anyway.

But maybe, just maybe, a stranger in the right time at the right place with the right attitude changed my career path. And for that possibility, I am grateful to Julie and to WMEAC.

So, please consider joining or supporting WMEAC as it turns 45. Because you never know when your support might be paid forward.


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