At PEC, we frequently say that we would not be successful at our work without the involvement and dedication of local citizens. Oya Simpson of Broadlands in Loudoun County is one of those citizens -- a grassroots organizer who works diligently in her suburban neighborhood to create awareness in a very young, very busy community.
Oya Simpson is the force behind
EarthDay@Loudoun. She's also
working in her neighborhood to
promote wildlife habitat, rain
barrels, composting, insulation,
and outdoor time for kids. Photo
by Michael Simpson.
Simpson’s work in Broadlands is extensive. She is the reason Broadlands completed its certification through the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) as a Community Wildlife Habitat. As a Master Naturalist, she has volunteered at local schools as a speaker and has taken children on field trips to the community nature center. Through the Broadlands Wildlife Committee, she helps organize numerous community workshops and programs that cover a large variety of topics--including energy, native plants and wildlife, sustainable gardening and landscaping, rain barrels, composting, insulation... and the list goes on. Perhaps her biggest contribution, however, is organizing EarthDay@Loudoun Family Festival -- a popular, PEC-sponsored family festival that celebrates the community, while encouraging its members to live more sustainably and conscientiously. Thousands of people come to Broadlands for this event every year, and Simpson works tirelessly to make it happen. To top it off, she does all of this as a volunteer.
"It is sometimes overwhelming," she says. "When you're volunteering, there is no price tag on it. You do what you love and you do what you can... But it is satisfying for me."
Surprisingly, Simpson says that she didn't really consider herself an environmentalist when she moved to Broadlands with her family in 2004. She recalls that she and her husband, Michael Simpson, were no different than the other families who moved to the new suburban neighborhood -- they wanted good schools, a dream home with plenty of space, and a back yard for their three kids to play in.
The Simpsons moved into their new home, and busied themselves settling in -- painting the walls and decorating with the season's colors and trends. Yet, Simpson recalls that within no time, there were new colors -- new decorations to improve her home. She started to notice that there was always something new that you just had to buy -- a new and improved mop, a shoe that would make her son run faster, a better laundry detergent, a lighter lawn mower. According to Simpson, her eyes were opened to a culture of disposability -- with the motto "throw it away and get something better."
"There was just no end to the need for more things," she remembers, "I began to feel that I was the perfect target for these marketing people telling me to consume and consume and consume. And at what cost? It felt wrong. It felt unethical, in a way, that I could just live my life and consume and waste without care... I started seeing things like I've never seen them before," she says, "and I began to get upset."
That's where it all began for Simpson. She started with small changes in her own home -- her family began recycling more and learned about composting. She was careful about what kind of household cleaners she was buying, and she was careful to turn the lights off when she left a room. "Our family reduced our consumption and waste tremendously," she recalls. "We began to realize what we needed and didn't need."
After stepping back from the cycle of consumption, Simpson found that she had more time on her hands and began looking for ways to contribute to her larger community. It was then that she learned about a plan to get Broadlands certified with the NWF as a wildlife habitat -- but the plan had been filed away because no one had volunteered to take it on. Simpson stepped up: "I didn't even know what NWF was," she laughs. "I didn't know anything about native plants or habitat for wildlife. But, I looked into it and got trained with the NWF." After three months of work, Simpson got the community certified -- a plan that had been on the shelf for three years.
And she didn't stop there. Simpson completed the Master Naturalist training and began speaking at schools about all she had learned -- taking the children on field trips to spend time outside and see plants and wildlife first hand. She created the EarthDay@Loudoun Family Festival to celebrate Broadland's NWF certification, and it has been a popular event for the past four years.
"It's a fun venue to bring environmental organizations and businesses together to inform the public about many aspects of environmental protection -- what's being done by local groups as well as what individuals can do themselves," says Gem Bingol of PEC. "The public has responded by coming out in the thousands, even this year when the weather was less than ideal for an outdoor event... I can't say enough about Oya's enthusiasm and passion for protecting the environment -- working to inform herself and helping others to become better informed. She's constantly thinking about what can be done, what she can do, and taking action to improve and protect the environment."
"My main goal," Simpson explains, "is to get people to stop a little bit and think about the choices that we make every day, all day long. How can we tweak it a little bit to lessen our impact? I'm sure that people are listening and, when the time comes -- like it did for me -- they will begin to make changes in their lives."
All of the work has been very rewarding for Simpson, but the biggest joy has been working with the children -- especially her own. "I don't know the impact of everything I'm doing," she says, "but I know that when I work with kids, they remember what I teach them. With my children, I know that it's going to be with them for the rest of their lives -- and they are going to influence others. They are going to make change."
This article was featured in our Summer 2012 Member Newsletter, The Piedmont View