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The Center for Health Services at Vanderbilt has helped nearly 110 communities throughout Tennessee by educating citizens about environmental health.
STEP—Service Training for Environmental Progress—was created in 1980 as a way to provide community service in concert with student learning on a wide range of issues including environmental justice, community mobilization, pollution prevention, environmental testing and documentation of environmental problems.
“Basically the program links students with communities in Tennessee dealing with environmental problems,” said Barbara Clinton, director of the Center for Health Services. “STEP has provided community-based learning opportunities to students and outreach workers, who work with community organizations throughout the summer months.”
The past few years, the group has worked with the Bells Bend Community Association and the Sierra Club. The goal of the Bells Bend project is to maintain a portion of Nashville as a rural and agricultural area. The Sierra Club project tracked developer records to determine if promises to maintain wetlands were kept. Because the state did not have the staff to follow up on this issue, STEP workers took on the project.
“The students assessed the track records of these developers as well as visited the sites,” said Clinton. “They found that half of the developers were not true to their word. We turned the information over to the state. Now the developers are subject to penalties.
“The work STEP does goes hand-in-hand with what Community Shares is committed to.”
Community Shares of Tennessee is an organization that funds groups trying to get to the root cause of issues like hunger, health care, domestic violence and environmental issues.
“Most of our students (who work with STEP) are planning to be environmental engineers or lawyers or corporate executives, so their experience working with a community that is coping with the effects of environmental policy makes them more wise and compassionate individuals,” Clinton said.
Community Shares serves as the funding source for the stipend students receive during their summer work with STEP.
Community Shares supports groups at the local, regional and state level, which allows donors the option of keeping their funds in their own communities or using it to support change on a broader scale.
“It was through the STEP initiative that we were able to introduce Community Shares to Vanderbilt as another giving option for employees,” said Clinton. “STEP makes a difference and it’s why I stay involved.”
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