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Earth Day Every Day

WORDS BY RACHAEL DUPREE

Caring for the environment doesn’t have to be relegated to one day a year. Live a more green lifestyle every day.

This month, we celebrate Earth Day to focus on making positive changes in the environment, but the reality is, if we’re going to see the needle move in the direction of a cleaner, more healthy earth, we need to practice Earth Day every day. With news of a changing climate, it can often seem overwhelming to figure out how to get your family involved in environmental and sustainability issues. Here are five easy ways your family can live a little more “green” any day of the year.

Get Outside One of the best ways to get kids to care about the earth is to take them outside!” says Emily Cieminski of the Greater Cincinnati Earth Coalition. Start a garden, go on a hike, or visit a state or national park. By setting aside time every day to play outside, you’ll initiate a bond between your children and nature, helping them to care for the environment around them as they grow older.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle The idea of reducing waste, reusing materials and recycling should be an ongoing topic of family discussion. Before your waste even hits the recycling bin, brainstorm ways as a family you can reduce or reuse your waste first. Maybe you can commit to making your own sauces for meals instead of purchasing ones in jars or swapping out plastic zipper bags for reusable ones, Cieminski recommends. Start a compost pile to turn food waste into fertilizer for your garden and remind one another to take reusable bags to the grocery store.

For the items you do recycle, read up on what materials are recyclable and how to sort them properly. Also look into Hamilton County’s electronic and hazardous waste recycling programs. Details on all things recycling in Cincinnati can be found at cincinnati-oh.gov/ recycling.

Shop with a Conscience Allow the things you discover through reducing, reusing and recycling to guide your family’s purchasing decisions. Do you buy a granola whose bag typically ends up in the trash can? Find a bulk option instead and fill a container you bring from home. Does your favorite restaurant use Styrofoam to-go containers? Bring your own when you dine out. Whatever you can do to avoid plastic, shrink wrap and Styrofoam is a win for the environment.

Eat More Plants Be aware of where the food you eat comes from, how it is raised and how it is processed. Maybe you can’t buy all local, organic foods, but you can make choices that limit the number of chemicals used, that promotes humane livestock practices, and limits the miles traveled to reach your dinner plate. Start by aiming for at least two plant-based meals per week, Cieminski says. Eating more plants is not only good for your health, it can significantly reduce the amount of carbon emissions and waste byproducts in our food system.

Turn Off the Lights Cut down on your energy usage by simply turning off the lights when you leave the room. This will not only lower your electricity bill, it will decrease your energy consumption. Once you’ve mastered that, take other steps to reduce energy use in your home: seal your house with weather stripping, open windows instead of running the A/C, and maybe even look into solar panel conversion.

Don’t let the idea of living a more green lifestyle get the better of you. “Sustainability can often seem more daunting than it is,” Cieminski says. “Making a few small, conscious choices has a larger impact.”

For more earth-friendly tips and family fun, visit cincinnatiearth day.com.

Working with Autism A collaboration between two local organizations gives people on the autism spectrum a chance to shine in the workplace.

What happens when a successful Cincinnati business with a global reach is gifted to a leading non-profit that specializes in serving children and families? In this case, it turns into a job-training opportunity with life-changing implications for young men and women on the autism spectrum.

Got-Special KIDS (GSK) is a real-time illustration of how people with autism and related diagnoses can thrive in the workplace environment. GSK specializes in providing sensory friendly aids, toys and products for children with special needs. It was gifted by owner and founder Tammy Andersson to The Children’s Home in January 2020.

“I started Got-Special KIDS after we learned our son had autism,” Andersson says. “I discovered there was very little out there in the way of therapeutic, educational or sensory resources for kids on the autism spectrum, or who have sensory processing disorders or other behavioral and learning challenges.

“Once we were well-established in the special education and special needs communities, I decided to gift my company to an organization that serves the underserved,” Andersson continues. “The Children’s Home was the obvious choice.” The Children’s Home serves more than 14,200 people every year through 30 programs located at 176 community locations. Got-Special KIDS is among the newest and most unique. The company is now housed at The Heidt Center of Excellence by The Children’s Home and staffed by job-training coaches.

“We’re actively changing the autism story through Got-Special KIDs,” says John Banchy, president and CEO of The Children’s Home. “Many of our perceptions about autism are perpetuated by popular culture and myth. But what we’re illustrating here on a daily basis, especially in regards to employability, is that those perceptions are not entirely accurate.”

Specifically, Banchy says, GSK shows that people on the autism

spectrum are very employable and possess traits that would be an asset to any business.

“Nationally, about 66% of the autism community are unemployed,” says Dawn Kaylor, human resources manager of The Children’s Home. “But studies from a variety of sources show that the special needs community make desirable employees. They tend to be fiercely loyal to their organization, which leads to very low turnover, and they are routinely among the most laser-focused and productive people in the work environment.”

Josh is one of the transition students working at Got-Special KIDS. He began in the warehouse of the operation with filling and shipping orders. Now, he also handles the inventory management side of Got-Special KIDS, which ships to 47 states and nine countries. “I don’t exactly like working at [Got-Special KIDS],” Josh says. “I love working at [Got-Special KIDS]. I love sorting things, I love figuring out how and where things go and I like to help people from other places in the world.”

“It’s been an amazing journey so far,” says Shayla Becze, a licensed social worker and the job readiness and senior retail operations manager of The Children’s Home. “The students are passionate and eager to learn. When you see how they tackle the tasks they’ve been assigned, it reinforces what we already knew: Everyone, regardless of whatever life challenges they may have, endeavors to lead an independent life with dignity and respect. Got-Special KIDS is actively providing the autism community with those tools and capabilities.”

Josh says that autism doesn’t diminish his capabilities to contribute to the workplace. In fact, for Josh, through Got-Special KIDS, now the entire world is within his reach. He’s even sent packages to Australia.

“In my opinion, people on the autism spectrum will get the job done the way the job should be completed,” Josh says. “We all have strengths and weaknesses, and we can use our strengths to complete the job we are given.”

Learn more about GotSpecial KIDS by visiting tchcincy.org.