Patricia Wangen wouldn’t consider herself an activist.
“I am active, but not an activist,” the Bothell resident said. “I consider simply bringing awareness of the many aspects of climate change a huge step toward producing action.”
Assigning labels and focusing on well-defined objectives seems to go against her ethos of seeing a need within her community as an opportunity to take action.
“We all have talents, sometimes talents we don’t even know about yet,” she said.
Wangen remembered feeling out of place when she attended her first environmentally focused class, a beach naturalist program hosted by Washington State University’s Snohomish County extension.
“They asked us all to introduce ourselves and state why we had come. I was one of the last people in line and I just sat there thinking to myself, ‘Why, why, why am I here?’ The first thing that popped into my head was ‘to save the planet,’ not sure where that came from, but I thought it was silly to say, that it was too much, too big. That’s when I thought, ‘Why not have a class at the senior center?’ I already taught Qigong, so that was a good start,” she said.
It was a good start. Between March 2017 and the end of this year, 24 speakers from organizations such as Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, Whale Scout, King County, the Climate Reality Project and Snohomish County PUD have presented, in addition to 23 film screenings as part of the Living Sustainably in a Changing Environment series.
“Patricia works hard to keep everyone on their toes and has spearheaded the educational component of our sustainability initiative here at the center,” volunteer coordinator at Northshore Senior Center (NSC), Pasha Mohajerjasbi, said. “She is absolutely sincere and dedicated in her efforts to inspire and encourage others.”
Wangen has tapped into the network of those working to conserve the environment, the opportunities to become involved and how to be effective. Most recently, she participated in the Community Action Training School (CATS) developed by two nonprofits, Sound Salmon Solutions and Mid Sound Fisheries Enhancement Group with funding provided by the King County Flood Control District.
Designed to empower local residents to protect and restore salmon habitats, CATS provides students with a free eight-week training course that includes classroom- and field-based lessons, followed by a commitment to volunteer at least 50 hours toward the design and implementation of a stewardship action project.
“[CATS] is a gold mine, so why wouldn’t you go? All you have to do is show up because someone else does all the work…That is until you are putting in your 50 hours of action,” Wangen said. “And then the wonderful leaders at CATS are there to support you all the way. People ask me about my hobbies or social activities — this is it — what else do you need? Making new friends along the way is part of the journey. I just want others to find their piece of the action.”
CATS has helped Wangen achieve her mission to spread awareness of environmental challenges. She believes in the power of allowing projects to take on a life of their own while remaining open and ready for opportunities when they present themselves. For her, it was the project with the Snohomish Conservation District to install a rain garden at NSC. The project is still in the planning stages, but she hopes to see it completed in 2020.
Kaeli Fertal, the environmental education coordinator at Sound Salmon Solutions, said it’s incredibly fulfilling to work with people like Wangen.
“I can’t overstate how incredibly fulfilling it is for those of us in so-called green-collar jobs to work with members of our community like Patricia,” she said. “People who take the messaging, knowledge, resources and tools we provide and employ them in such passionate and creative ways.”
In a time where it feels like change can only come from creating a mighty wave, Fertal said maybe the power of ripples has been overlooked.
“Perhaps we have overlooked the power of ripples — the small, everyday actions we can all take that send changes out into our communities — and so I say we should all adopt the Wangenian philosophy, and ‘be the ripple,’” she said.
To learn more about CATS, visit tinyurl.com/up3rbxm.