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Implements of Social Change: Two Fellowships, a Garden, and a Bike Co-op

by Sue Angell

Lead Image: Joanna Burch-Brown & Zachary Moser

JUNE 2, 2003--Now that Commencement is a fading memory, Oberlin's newest alumni are packing up and preparing for a new phase of their lives. Many are heading to graduate school, others will enter the workforce, and some--like Joanna Burch-Brown '03 and Zachary Moser '02--will continue to explore the interests they cultivated during their college years.

Burch-Brown and Moser recently received fellowships from the Compton Foundation's Mentor Fellowship Program. Now in its second year, this program promotes the creativity and commitment of graduating seniors to environmental and social issues as they begin to consider their long-term career goals.

Burch-Brown, a politics major with minors in environmental studies and law and society, will fly to London to start a new branch of the Natural Growth Project, a community gardening project for refugees and victims of torture.

"In high school, I became a member of Amnesty International," Burch-Brown says. "Our work was largely with refugees, in particular with women from Bosnia who were seeking asylum from the war. I see the Compton Fellowship as a continuation of the work I began then, and as a chance to help a group of people facing some very complicated issues."

The Compton Fellowship includes a mentoring component, allowing fellows to work with experts in a field that defines their project. Burch-Brown will work with psychotherapist Jenny Grut, who has been running the Natural Growth Project in London since 1992.

"The Natural Growth Project will act as both model and midwife for the project," says Burch-Brown. "I will be modeling my work after the NGP, but at the same time will be exploring ways to adapt the work they've done."

Moser, who majored in studio art, is returning to his hometown of Houston to start an organization similar to the Bike Co-op. For the past two years, Moser has helped run this Oberlin campus fixture.

"Houston is a city that doesn't get much attention from people interested in environmental issues," Moser says. "It is a car-dependant city with lots of urban sprawl. I can't think of a better place to introduce a bike co-op."

Moser will return to Houston's Third Ward to establish the co-op, which he has named The Third Ward Community Bike Center. He will work with Rick Lowe, founder of Project Row Houses, a public art project involving artists in issues of neighborhood revitalization, historic preservation, community service, and youth education.

"From my experience at Oberlin, I learned that one of the best ways to promote change is to give people the tools to make the change themselves," says Moser. "By showing people how take care of a bike, we do more than give them transportation. We empower them and teach them to be self-sufficient."

Both Moser and Burch-Brown are passionate about their respective endeavors, but realize that the projects will ultimately take shape based on the participants' needs.

"The most exciting thing about empowering a community of people is watching what they will do with a project," Moser says.

Burch-Brown agrees. "Building infrastructure so that the project can sustain itself is critical. In the end I want the gardens to belong to the participants; my role is to help build the groundwork."




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