Thirty-five years ago, staff working with MASSPIRG had an idea: to create an organizing training and action center to help local community activists fighting to clean up hazardous waste dumpsites across Massachusetts.
They formed the Massachusetts Campaign to Clean Up Hazardous Waste, first as a project of MASSPIRG, then as a new organization within the PIRG network (better known today as The Public Interest Network).
Over the years, the name has changed – from Massachusetts Campaign to Clean up Hazardous Waste, to Toxics Action Center and, now, Community Action Works. And the mission has expanded – to include communities throughout New England and environmental problems beyond toxics.
But the core mission has remained the same, rooted in the conviction that while environmental threats are big, the power of well-organized community groups is bigger.
The proof of this theory of change can be found in the success of groups helped by Community Action Works including:
- ¡Action for a Healthy Holyoke! (Mass.), which helped shut down a coal-fired power plant that polluted the air of a largely Latino community – and helped replace it with a solar farm,
- Hamden’s (Conn.) Newhall Coalition, which convinced the state to remediate contaminated areas around a school in a community of color,
- Vermont’s Lake Iroquois Conservation Group, which won the denial of a permit to use pesticides in the lake,
- Tewksbury’s (Mass.) Townspeople Organized Against Illness and Contamination (TOXIC), which won Superfund cleanup status for a contaminated landfill, and
- hundreds of other groups, fights and victories, from Belfast, Maine to Hartford, Connecticut.
“We’re proud to have played a role in creating and launching Community Action Works, and to help people whose backs are against the wall realize their own power to protect their environment and the health of their communities,” said Janet Domenitz, MASSPIRG executive director and the new president of the Community Action Works board. “We’re looking forward to the next 35 years.”
The Board recently approved Leigh-Anne Cole to serve as acting director of Community Action Works. With nearly 20 years of organizing experience, Leigh-Anne is passionate about recruiting, training and supporting people who want to take action for public health, the environment and other causes. From 2008 to 2012, Leigh-Anne coordinated the Student PIRGs’ New Voters Project, which helped more than 300,000 people register to vote and contacted more than 1 million people to get out and vote. Leigh-Anne started her career as a Campus Organizer with MASSPIRG, during which time she campaigned (with a coalition that included Toxics Action Center) to make the state’s “Filthy Five” power plants clean up or shut down. Leigh-Anne is a Massachusetts native and a graduate of Fordham University.
Leigh-Anne is joining Sylvia Broude, Dana Colihan, Dominic Chacón and the rest of the Community Action Works staff to ensure the next 35 years continue to offer training and support that uplifts local activists and organizations and makes our communities greener, safer and healthier for all.
Other new members of the Community Action Works board besides Janet and Leigh-Anne are:
Deirdre Cummings, MASSPIRG’s Legislative Director. Deirdre has led campaigns to get lead out of drinking water at schools and daycare centers, protect student loan borrowers from deceptive and predatory lending practices, improve public records law and require all state spending to be transparent, reduce costs of health insurance and prescription drugs, and more. Deirdre also oversees a Consumer Action Center in Weymouth, Mass., which has mediated 18,000 complaints and returned $5 million to Massachusetts consumers since 1989. Deirdre currently resides in Maynard, Mass. Over the years, as an organizer, she has visited all but one of the state’s 351 towns (Gosnold being the exception). She is a 1986 graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Bernadette Del Chiaro, Executive Director of the California Solar and Storage Association. Previously, Bernadette directed Environment California’s Clean Energy Program. She has been a leader in California’s rooftop solar revolution, leading the successful Million Solar Roofs campaign and winning one of the first renewable portfolio standards, with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. She is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and of Green Corps, the nation’s most respected field school for environmental organizing. During her stint with Green Corps, Bernadette worked with Community Action Works (then called Toxics Action Center) to clean up the Sooty Six coal-fired power plants in Connecticut. After graduating from the Green Corps program, she was the Organizing Director of Toxics Action Center, helping to build the organization from a four-person, two-state operation into a program that covered all of New England. Bernadette lives with her family in Sacramento, Calif.
Hyam Kramer, Chief Financial Officer of Telefund and Grassroots Campaigns, Inc. (GCI), citizen outreach operations that have conducted organizing and fundraising campaigns for many of the nation’s leading social change organizations. including Planned Parenthood and the ACLU. Previously, Hyam was the National Telephone Outreach Director and a Regional Canvass Director for the Fund for Public Interest Research. Hyam graduated from Princeton University in 1982. He lives in Boston with his husband Tom.
Yana Kucher, Director of Field Analytics and Planning for The Public Interest Network and Chair of the Zero Out Toxics program for the network. Yana has overseen multiple campaigns to protect the public against toxic health threats for both PIRG and Environment California. She graduated from the University of Arizona in 1997, after which she spent two years in the Peace Corps. Yana lives in Denver with her family.
Andy MacDonald, National Organizing Director of the Student PIRGs, overseeing staff who organize students on 38 college campuses in nine states. For nearly four decades, Andy has been part of one of the most successful organizing programs in the country, involving thousands of college student volunteers and interns, maintaining a funding base to sustain the program, and serving as an “activist pipeline” for future staff and engaged citizens. The student program has also played a major part in hundreds of successful environmental and public interest projects, including the signature-gathering effort for the 1986 Hazardous Waste Cleanup Initiative in Massachusetts, which led directly to the creation of Toxics Action Center and Community Action Works. Andy is a 1983 graduate of Cornell University and he lives in Amherst, Mass.
Faye Park, President of PIRG and Executive Vice President of The Public Interest Network. As president of PIRG, Faye has been quoted in major news outlets, including CBS News and The Washington Post, about issues ranging from getting toxic chemicals out of children’s products to protecting Americans from predatory lending practices. She began her public interest career as a student volunteer with MASSPIRG Students at Williams College. After graduating in 1992, Faye began working with the Student PIRGs in California as a campus organizer and organizing director, working on campaigns to help students register to vote and to promote recycling. Faye lives in Denver, Colo., with her family.
Zach Polett, President of Progressive Future Network, with over 40 years of experience as a community, labor and political organizer. In his current role, he works with Accelerate Change (and PushBlack and Pulso, just two of the groups that Accelerate Change has incubated), Progress Florida and Fair Share. Zach also oversees the network’s Calling for Progress program, which has organized grassroots action and support for such efforts as DC Vote, the Giffords campaign against gun violence, and the Black Male Voter Project. Zach spent most of his career organizing with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), during which time he founded Louisiana ACORN in 1976 and also served as the Director of Political Operations and Executive Director of Project Vote. He is a graduate of Harvard University. Zach has lived in Little Rock for more than three decades in what is probably the only Cajun-Korean-Jewish household in Arkansas.
John Rumpler, Senior Attorney and Director of Environment America’s Clean Water program. John’s areas of expertise include lead and other toxic threats to drinking water, factory farms and other sources of agribusiness pollution, algal blooms, fracking and the federal Clean Water Act. He has testified before Congress and co-authored several reports on fracking, agribusiness pollution and lead in schools’ drinking water. He previously worked as a staff attorney for Alternatives for Community & Environment and Tobacco Control Resource Center. John graduated from Tufts University and lives in Brookline, Mass.
Leslie Samuelrich, President of Green Century Capital Management, an environmentally responsible investment firm. Green Century is the first family of fossil fuel free, diversified and responsible mutual funds, allowing investors to match their support of a transition to clean energy and sustainable businesses with their investment choices. Leslie’s more than three decades of organizing experience includes her work as Executive Director of Green Corps, the field school for environmental organizing, which worked on behalf of Toxics Action Center on the 1992 Make Polluters Pay ballot initiative campaign. Leslie was also previously the Chief of Staff for Corporate Accountability International. Leslie graduated from Boston College in 1985 and lives in Wakefield, Mass.
Jeff Sprague, a Senior Recruiter for Work for Progress. In his more than three decades of public interest service, Jeff has recruited, hired and trained hundreds of advocates and organizers and thousands of canvassers. As a canvass director with the Fund for the Public Interest, Jeff ran one of the social change movement’s largest-ever canvassing offices, with more than 100 canvassers knocking on doors every day. Jeff is a 1987 graduate of the University of Vermont and lives in Malden, Mass.
Tom Subak, founder of the Re/Imagination Lab, a nonprofit organization that advances the missions of social impact organizations by providing actionable insights about consumer digital behavior. With a 30-year proven track record of driving social sector transformation and digital innovation, Tom has overseen local, state and national political campaigns; envisioned, launched, scaled and sold an internet strategy consulting firm; and led transformational efforts at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, most recently as the Chief Strategy Officer and Assistant to the President. He is known as a bold visionary and serial transformer. Cecile Richards credited Tom as the person who “made it happen” when discussing Planned Parenthood’s digital transformation in her New York Times best-selling book Make Trouble.
The new members of the Community Action Works board are looking forward to rolling up their sleeves and working with long-standing board members, staff, community leaders and others to continue to help make positive change in local communities throughout New England.