Landing back in Lansing: Jeremy Orr

The Mid-Michigan Environmental Action Council has announced its new Executive Director, an experienced and passionate man with an impressive list of successful environmental and community oriented projects; Jeremy Orr. Beyond an invisible carbon footprint, MSU alumna, Orr, has left his mark on Michigan, working in both Detroit and Kalamazoo, and he’s excited to bring his wealth of knowledge and experience back to the region of the state that claims home to his alma mater.

“It feels great to be the new Executive Director of Mid-MEAC. It truly is a blessing to have been selected from among a pool of many well-qualified candidates. But simply being the new Executive Director isn’t the cool part. The cool part is that I get to lead a phenomenal organization that has a deep-rooted history of being Mid-Michigan’s leading environmental grassroots advocate.  It is really my pleasure to be working alongside such an amazing group of volunteers, staff, interns, residents, elected & appointed officials, and various community stakeholders,” says Orr.

Jeremy Orr got his start in environmental work with the City of Lansing Parks and Recreation Department, first as an intern, and then as a part-time employee while he attended MSU. He worked at Gier Park Community Center where he was involved with a youth after-school program and engaged in various activities aimed at keeping the park clean and safe.

“There was something about the sense of ownership the youth possessed that really stood out, to me, as powerful. It was simple: the youth recognized the park as their park, and therefore, they took responsibility in beautifying that space,” says Orr.

After school, Orr moved back home to work for an inner city Detroit non-profit that did commercial and residential redevelopment. His role with that non-profit was to secure funds for and manage an environmental enhancement project that allocated funding to neighborhood associations in order to beautify green spaces, clean up parks and buy new eco-friendly equipment, plant gardens, purchase energy efficient signage, and more. During his time with the Detroit non-profit, he helped administer the Northwest Detroit Farmers’ Market –the second largest farmers’ market in Detroit, second only to Eastern market.

After his work in Detroit, he dusted off his hands and rolled up his sleeves to move to Kalamazoo where he worked as a Lead Community Organizer. Among other social justice issues that he worked on, Orr organized around the cleanup of the Allied Paper site –a superfund site that contains PCB’s that Orr says, are currently a threat to contaminate the region’s water supply. Alongside other community organizers, advocates, and residents, Orr planned strategies for engaging the Environmental Protection Agency and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality as well as helped develop the community message and narrative regarding the cleanup.

Now, as Orr moves into a stage in his career where he has the power to further progress the environmental outlook of the Great Lakes state, he finds passion and motivation in increasing standards for Michigan’s quality of life and public health, or as he states, Environmental Justice.

“I firmly believe that nothing has a greater impact on our lives than the physical environments that we interact with every single day. And by that rationale, poor quality of life is directly tied to poor environmental quality; thus, making it an environmental justice issue. Inherently, environmental justice is a civil rights and human rights issue because it is about people and how policy, legislative, and planning decisions affect their lives. So what drives me is the belief that I can make a difference in the lives of people by helping improve their quality of life through environmental advocacy,” says Orr.

As Orr moves forward to fight for environmental justice, there are a handful of projects the Mid-MEAC are involved with to stoke Orr’s fiery passion.

“There are two great programs in particular which I am excited about Mid-MEAC leading: Volunteer Stream Monitoring and Smart Commute. Each Spring and Fall Mid-MEAC Volunteer Stream Monitors put on waders and head into the streams of the Red Cedar River watershed to search for bugs.  We use nets to collect the bugs from the streams and trays and tweezers to sort through them on shore. These stream monitors are an integral part of the protection of the Red Cedar River and its tributaries. The types of bugs that we collect tell a story about the health of the river at each location,” says Orr. “We’ve been conducting this program for over half a decade and use the results to publish a report which shows a year-to-year comparison of the health of various sites on the river.”

Another project Orr has great expectations for is a project called Smart Commute, a program designed to help reduce the carbon footprint, increase physical activity, and engage in some friendly competition. Smart commute involves local businesses, schools, faith communities, neighborhoods, and organizations that build teams to compete against one another from June 7th through June 20th, 2015.
“Smart commuting saves energy, reduces traffic flow, improves air quality, and makes our region a better place to walk, bike, live and breathe,” said Orr. “Teams are divided into categories based on the number of participants. Winning teams earn prizes and top scores by completing the most smart commute trips and having the highest percentage of participating members. Teams may include family, friends and neighbors as long as they are registered under the same team name.”

Orr came into the Executive Director role with high expectations for all of Mid-MEAC’s programs and anticipates that, with some tweaks to mid-Michigan community engagement and communications plans, there will be more community involvement than ever before. To achieve that level of community involvement, Orr will be the guy to build and maintain meaningful relationships with community members and stakeholders who share similar values of environmental protection and sustainability to collectively create changes in attitudes, behaviors, and policies throughout the tri-county region.

Jared Field is a freelance writer for Capital Gains.

Photos © Dave Trumpie
Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
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