Listening to Communities to Advance Environmental Justice
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Listening to Communities to Advance Environmental Justice

Two leaders committed to ensuring equity in both federal and local environmental justice initiatives join “Profiles in Public Service” to speak about their collaborative efforts to address public health issues for communities on the West Coast and beyond. Laura Ebbert works in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 9 office based in San Francisco, where she leads environmental justice, equity and policy programs. Lauren Boitel runs ImpactNV, a statewide sustainability nonprofit and coalition builder in Las Vegas, Nevada. A recent recipient of the EPA’s environmental justice grant program, ImpactNV is using federal funds to support transformational investments to improve air quality and mitigate the impact of severe heat on predominantly Latinx communities in East Las Vegas. Ebbert and Boitel describe how listening to the lived experiences of community members is leading to more equitable statewide and federal solutions to environmental justice concerns. 

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Rachel Klein-Kircher: From the Partnership for Public Service, this is Profiles in Public Service—a podcast that shares the stories of the public servants who work on our behalf every day to make our country safer, healthier and more prosperous. 

We talk to career public servants, emerging leaders, and others to better understand what it means to be a public servant… the incredible variety of careers possible in government… and how public service impacts all our lives.  

I’m your host, Rachel Klein-Kircher. 

Kevin Johnson: And I am Kevin Johnson, Rachel’s guest host for today’s episode and a director on our Workforce team. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: This season, we are bringing listeners on a journey filled with stories of both federal service and community impact. Our upcoming series of episodes will include both public servants and those who have directly benefitted from their leadership and innovation to demonstrate what it takes for our federal government and its wide network of regional partners to effectively serve the people.  

Kevin Johnson: Today we have two leaders committed to ensuring equity in environmental justice at both the federal and local levels. 

Laura Ebbert is a director and equity advisor in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 9 office based in San Francisco. There, she leads environmental justice and policy programs in Arizona, California, Nevada, and Hawaii as well as the Pacific Islands and 148 federally recognized tribes.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher: 

Today’s community partner is Lauren Boitel, the executive director of ImpactNV in Las Vegas, Nevada. Impact NV is a statewide sustainability nonprofit and coalition builder whose newest project, Buen Aire Para Todos, or “clean air for all,” has received federal funding through an EPA initiative that provides grants to address environmental and public health concerns at the local level.   

Kevin Johnson: Both Laura and Lauren will speak with us about how the use of community-level feedback is helping to inform what will be a transformational investment in improving air quality and mitigating the impact of severe heat on predominantly Latin communities in East Las Vegas. Let’s turn now to this wonderful conversation. 

Transition Music 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: So, Laura and Lauren, thank you so much for being with us here today. 

Laura Ebbert: Thank you. I’m delighted to join. 

Lauren Boitel: Happy to be here. Thank you. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: So, we have a lot of great questions for you, and I’m going to start with you, Laura. One thing we aim to do with our podcast is to shatter some of the stereotypes about the federal government and rebuild that public faith in what is sometimes thought of as that giant, faceless bureaucracy. So, there’s a quote from you in the EPA region nine Tribal Newsletter from summer 2020. 

Yes, I pulled that out and this was during year one of the pandemic, and in the opening page you write, “I hope you; your family and your community are in good health and good spirits. This time we are spending alone together is a challenge, but so important to ensure the wellbeing of our communities. 

Please find some time to enjoy a bit of stillness today and know that I’m thinking of you. If there’s any way we can better support you, we are just a phone call or email away and very eager to help.” So, I don’t know if many people would expect that they could hear something like this from someone who’s part of a big bureaucracy. 

What inspired you, Laura, to bring this heartfelt passion to a career in public service and work for the federal government? 

Laura Ebbert: Oh my goodness. Thank you so much for recalling that, that quote for me. I’m actually tearing up a little bit. The folks that work with me know that I cry at work all the time. I think emotions absolutely belong in the workplace, and I appreciate you recalling that memory. I came to public service as a family calling my parents both come from big military families. My family has a big history of service, and my parents raised us girls to understand that everyone owes a debt to society. That this is how democracy works. That we have a service obligation to our country. My father fulfilled his service obligation through military service in Vietnam, and he continues to volunteer in the community where my parents live. 

My mother is a lifelong volunteer in the education sector. My sisters perform volunteer and community work, and I serve in federal service here at the United States Environmental Protection Agency. I really feel like this is a calling. This is a way for me to apply the skills that I have to the service of my community and the service of my country. 

And I think you can hear in that quote. I really feel like we are a community and the more that we can create these extensions, the more that we can express ourselves as individuals in public service. The greater public service becomes. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: And what was your path to serving in your current role? 

Laura Ebbert: After college I went to work for a Native American tribe on California’s northwest coast, the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation. And I served as their environmental program director for a time. I later worked for the Yurok Tribe’s Environmental Program, also a tribe on California’s northwest coast. And in both of those capacities, I received and coordinated grants from the United States Environmental Protection Agency and from other agencies in the service of the tribes’ environmental and public health goals. 

In doing that work, I had the opportunity to serve on a number of advisory boards and build partnerships and networks with folks at the United States Environmental Protection Agency. And they really convinced me that this was a great place for me to expand my skillset. And in 2008, I came to work for the EPA here in San Francisco, and I saw it as an opportunity for me to build my level of influence over issues that mattered to me. 

So when I was working at the Yurok Tribe, and working at Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation, I was able to affect the lives of individuals, the lives of communities. I came to work for EPA and I was able to administer environmental programs in support of 17 federally recognized tribes in Nevada. As I proceeded through my career here at EPA, I feel like I’ve had this chance to grow my sphere of influence over the way that this agency, the federal government, works with communities that matter most to me. I’ve been able to grow that bouquet of service to extend to not just tribes in California, Arizona, and Nevada, but also to Pacific Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Marianna Islands. 

We provide services to the freely associated states. The federated states of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Island of Palau. We also provide services in the US and in Mexico on both sides of the border in California, Baja, California, Arizona, Sonora. We provide support to communities with environmental justice concerns. 

And we deliver on EPA’s responsibilities to conduct NEPA Environmental Review. All of these things are great ways that EPAs mission touches people, touches communities in the places where they are, and I’m so pleased to have been able to accrue over time in my career at EPA the opportunity to exert greater and greater influence over the way that we behave in these places. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: This is a recurring theme that we hear from our guests about serving in federal government is that opportunity to have influence over matters that are important to you and I app. appreciate that message being emphasized. So I will turn it to Kevin now to ask more about your current work. 

Kevin Johnson: Yeah. You’ve definitely hinted towards some of the great work you have done as a director of the regional office there. Is there one that in particular stands out to you that you are the most proudest of, especially when it comes to environmental justice? 

Laura Ebbert: So our, our work related to environmental justice is very interesting because, communities have for decades been telling us exactly what’s wrong. And this agency only recently has been given by Congress the authority and the funding to help actually solve many of the problems that communities have been talking to us about for a very long time. 

These issues are not singular in nature. Most of the places where communities are raising their voices to us are not a single thing. They’re many things. So, I’m really proud of the way that our division and our region and our agency is learning to listen at a different level. 

So previously we didn’t really have the bandwidth to walk into a community intending to inspect an underground storage tank facility and listen and react and respond to concerns about other issues, other facilities in that place. And I’m really seeing that we are acquiring individuals who are talented at this sort of deeper listening. 

We’re also growing in ourselves, the excitement that goes along with practicing that deeper listening, really trying to listen and examine the data that we have available to us in a greater context. Responding to communities’ input, right? Communities are adding value to this conversation. One of the places where that’s happening immediate to me is the community of West Oakland, just across the water from where I sit right now at my office in San Francisco I can see West Oakland from my window and we’re doing a lot of work. 

And listening, learning from the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project a great bastion of environmental justice conversations in the West Oakland community. I’ve had the opportunity to meet Brian Beveridge and Ms. Margaret to be educated by them, to understand the perspectives that they bring to the, to the work that we do. 

I have a great perspective on the work, and they have a great perspective on that lived experience of the West Oakland community. Things that are happening in West Oakland are multifaceted and dynamic, and there are a number of ways that EPA intersects with that work where we can influence some of the decisions and some of the issues that matter most to citizens of West Oakland. 

And we’re also a really powerful convener. One of EPA’s great roles has been able to bring others to the table, federal government, local government, state government, and other partners to create conversations around things that are happening. I’m really excited about the work that our team is doing to help create conversations, to make space for discussion so that other federal agencies can be informed about the concerns that are in West Oakland community members’ hearts. 

And I’m very proud of the work that we’re able to do as a federal agency. One of the things that we’re currently involved in is NEPA Environmental Review under the National Environmental Policy Act related to some projects that are happening in the West Oakland area. And NEPA might sometimes sound like a dry part of what EPA does, but it’s actually one of the places where we’re tremendously influential. 

We participate as a cooperating agency. Helping our federal partners make good decisions about how to fairly evaluate how to create projects that are the most beneficial, the least impacting to communities as possible. And West Oakland is one of the places where we’re doing exactly that. We’re serving in a cooperating agency role, trying our best to help the National Environmental Policy Act come to life in a way that can fairly evaluate a federal project that’s happening in that community. 

Kevin Johnson: There’s a lot around listening and hearing and really caring about the communities that you all serve, and I’m sure that where you are now is not how you started. Can you highlight a couple of maybe the challenges that you all had to overcome, and what are your approaches to make sure that you were really focusing on the community and not just the science itself? 

Laura Ebbert: To speak very frankly, we are largely a group of very educated folks here at the Environmental Protection Agency. We are a host of scientists and engineers who come to this work because we’re very good at it, right? We have a tremendous sense of integrity about the work that we do. I personally like knowing the right answer. 

I don’t know about you, but it’s a very human thing, right? We do like to be correct about things, and one of the things that we’ve really been grappling with is the idea that it is possible to be right and to be wrong at the same time. So, we can have facts, we can come to some conclusions about what those facts tell us. 

We can have data, we can have sampling results, et cetera, and then we can meet a community member whose lived experience throws all our objective facts, not into question, but puts them into a context that is suddenly more complicated for us to understand. And I think that over the last few years we’ve been trying to figure out how best to address this need for us to grow in this capacity. To bring our emotional selves, to bring a higher level of intelligence to the work that we do. So it’s not just having the best technical answer. 

It’s about how do you package that technical answer in a greater context? And you must understand that that is a tremendous area of growth for us and there are challenges and opportunities that go along with it. And I think that it comes back to how ready we feel. At least for me, it feels like emotional work that deeper level of listening. 

So how ready we feel to engage as a human being with a community who, whose experience might be the same or different from my own and with how much heart and empathy can we approach that work? You asked me about, you know, challenges and I do think that that is, that is a fundamental challenge. It’s just how do we open ourselves up to this, this higher level of understanding and how can we help members of our workforce feel like getting it wrong is sometimes getting it right. So one of the things that’s very powerful for the federal government to do is to ask for feedback. Either before or after we make a, a decision to ask for feedback and then to change as a result of that feedback. 

So, being wrong in this context is very powerful. That’s also very brave work. So, I really feel like there’s so much of an opportunity for us as a workforce of scientists and engineers to grow into this place of empathy to grow into this place of bravery, and that’s what we’ve been busy with for the last few years, trying to figure out how we can build in ourselves the tools that we need to be good at this work in a deeper context. 

Kevin Johnson: And that is a powerful mindset that how do you ground the science into the community and it’s through that empathy and all the other things that you talked about. That is a great insight. I’ll turn it back to Rachel. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: And you talked about the communities adding value to the conversation. And today we do have a community partner with us. So, Lauren, your organization Impact NV, is leading a new project, Buen Aire Para Todos, or Clean Air for All. And that’s thanks to a $200,000 grant from the EPA through the Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem Solving Cooperative Agreement Program. 

So, from your perspective, what impact will having this grant have on your organization’s ability to serve your community and to improve air quality in East Las Vegas? 

Lauren Boitel: Thank you. I would say very large impact and we like to use that word a lot, obviously with the name of our organization, but I think how it has really helped us is building capacity and improving awareness around our mission by being awarded this grant. Nevada tends to be disproportionately low compared to other states in terms of investment in federal dollars for several reasons. 

ImpactNV helping increase that investment has been really rewarding for me and our Board because it’s allowed us to amplify our mission delivery around environmental justice work while strengthening our relationships with community partners through the nature of the collaborative problem solving grant. 

You know, we kind of have to, but tend to anyway, work with academia, public jurisdictions, the city of Las Vegas in this case, and community-based organizations. And so I think it’s been, just a really great accelerant and amplifier of that work. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: And I know it may be a little bit early on in having these funds, is there something that already stands out for you as a memorable experience or story that’s already illustrating the impact? 

Lauren Boitel: Yes. We are a little early on, but we did have our launch event, on February 1st. We had over 70 residents of East Las Vegas, which is a community that’s largely people of color, about 65% Hispanic, largely low income, linguistically isolated, and disproportionately impacted by poor air quality due to their proximity to our two major freeways. 

And so we had 70 people attend a kickoff event with all of our partners and their ward’s councilwoman at the East Las Vegas Library, which is kind of a community hub here. We spent two hours announcing the project to them, helping them understand how air quality affects them and that we’re doing this project, not for them, but with them because they can participate and become citizen scientists helping us collect the data in their own homes and businesses. So the event was entirely bilingual with all the information translated into English and Spanish. We had so much interest from the community to participate that our signup list is larger than the number of air quality monitors that we have to distribute. 

So we’re working on that. But it was and is really gratifying to see how the community is responding to this investment and just interest from so many people, including local and federal government in improving their health, their neighborhood, and their lives. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: And are you finding that the community is asking questions about, this is what we’re doing now, and then what and how are you addressing those questions? 

Lauren Boitel: Yes. So that’s a big piece of the outcomes of the grant is, you know, we are gonna spend just over a year and a half, almost two years of collecting the data inside homes in and outside businesses, and actually some mobile air sensors as well. Everyone is asking, ‘and then what?,’ because part of the education of this project is sharing with community members what the current situation is, which is for air quality, not great in that neighborhood and why? Right. They of course want to know how they can help and so we do have an immediate measure, which is, we are also including an air filter installation program. So, anyone who participates in the program is getting high efficiency air filters to install each month, as well as a small stipend so they can at least see an initial small improvement on the indoor air quality. 

But one of the outcomes, as they mentioned of the grant is to package the data into a narrative around what can be done in terms of recommendations to the city to help really improve, the neighborhood once we have all of this data collected. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: And in your interactions with federal leaders and maybe other representatives from EPA, what has been surprising for you? 

Lauren Boitel: I think the biggest thing that has surprised me is how much everyone at EPA is truly supportive and encouraging and wants our project to be successful. I think Laura’s attitude, as everyone can see here is a perfect example of that. You know, talking about engaging as a human being with heart and empathy, and there’s really this culture of understanding that trickles down. 

So there are of course, the federal processes that you have to go through on the administrative side that can seem a bit burdensome and time consuming, especially for a smaller NGO like ours. However, they’re really there to make sure the project is being done correctly and staff does everything they can to prepare and support grantees through those. 

I think so far I must have interacted with about a dozen ePA employees from the announcement and application stage through receiving the award, support staff, our grant managers communication staff for press releases, higher level leadership, and everyone has been positive, helpful, great at follow up with any needs or requests, and just truly encouraging. 

Kevin Johnson: Here at the partnership part of our role is not only highlighting some of the great work of federal agencies, but also dispelling a number of the myths. For you and your work with the EPA, is what do you think is most important for people to understand about the government’s ability to make an impact on individuals as well as communities when it comes to air quality in particular? 

Lauren Boitel: I think it is a lot of that convening, that Laura was talking about. So again, the nature of this grant, the collaborative piece is that you are working with several different types of organizations. So as I mentioned, we’re working with academia through Desert Research Institute. We’re working with local government through the City of Las Vegas. 

We’re working with another local community-based organization called Make the Road that does the community outreach and has those true relationships with the community, and then  other smaller groups as well. And so that convening, and then also the problem solving, right? As Laura mentioned, the community’s been telling us what the problems are. You had to address an issue related to a federal act. Of course, for ours we’re, we’re addressing air quality. There’s so many, right? So I think just the way the grant itself is structured requires successful partnerships to be put into place and to make sure that things are done the right way to achieve a change, to really impact the issue that we are trying to address. 

So I think it’s, it’s the convening, it’s the structure and support, and then obviously the resources in order to really kind of amplify existing efforts. We’ve had air quality as a guiding principle of our organization since its inception, but to have these additional resources to put into the community really helps us amplify and accelerate that work. 

And so I think convening collaboration and additional resources with that foundation of support is the biggest piece. 

Kevin Johnson: And for you, Laura, how do you feel when you hear Lauren talk about the impact that your agency had on their community? 

Laura Ebbert: I feel so good, Kevin. Everyone that I know here at EPA loves their job. I love my job. And this is exactly why. Here at EPA we have such a tremendous opportunity, right? It is really rare to have a direct line of sight in federal service to the individuals and communities who are affected and benefit from the work that we do, and it feels so good. 

First of all, Lauren, I love to hear that our brand is just coming out of our pores, right? We are so enthusiastic. We are so eager to collaborate. We’re so excited about the fruits of this work because this is, this is the stuff. This is the real stuff. This is people’s lives changing as a result of something as dry on our side, as a grant action, as the approval of data quality objectives. 

You know, some of these things, some of the work in federal government can feel very bureaucratic because guess what, no surprise, we are a bureaucracy. But this work here at EPA, we have the opportunity to meet and shake hands with people who can honestly say, I was directly affected by the work that you do. And it makes it so worth it. This is the kind of stuff, these conversations that just fill my cup, you know, this is hard work on this side of the table. It is hard work. There’s always more to do than there’s time available, but it’s conversations like these that keep me feeling renewed. 

Kevin Johnson: And as you reflect back on the impact, Laura, is there any takeaways that you have from the work with Lauren’s organization or anything else in that region that you feel that your team can incorporate in future opportunities working with other communities? 

Laura Ebbert: Absolutely. So one of the things that Lauren and I have discussed is the administrative burden. $200,000 is not a whole lot of money for the number of hoops that one might have to jump through, if you’ll forgive the phrase, and EPA has been doing some deliberate thinking about ways that we can reduce the administrative burden for grantees. And conversations like this with Lauren directly influence the thinking that we’re doing behind the scenes about what it is that we can do to both meet the intents of Congress and the expectations of the Inspector General and everyone else who holds us accountable for what we do with the resources we are provided, but also to make sure that we are delivering those funds in a way that is thoughtful and that we’re doing everything that we can to streamline the administrative burden that Lauren and other or small organizations experience in working with us. 

I had the opportunity to contribute to the agency’s equity plan all branches of federal government had to produce an agency equity plan responding to the President Biden Harris administration’s agenda. And I had the great pleasure of supporting EPA’s contributions to that document, specifically contributions related to the streamlining of federal awards. 

And again, it’s it’s these direct conversations, this direct experience that helps me be effective in that capacity. That helps me help my agency figure out how to clear the way for others. And so I do think that there’s a lot to tell here in terms of the individual experiences that communities and partners have with us that can help us inform other work that we’re doing, specifically the Inflation Reduction Act. We have $3 billion that we are going to start rolling out very shortly under the Inflation Reduction Act. And many of the lessons that we’ve learned under prior grant making cycles, including the one that funded Lauren, is helping us inform the way that we’re approaching that funding and distributing those resources. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: So, I have a question for you both that we’d love to ask our guests, and we’ll start with you, Laura, and then go to Lauren. What might you suggest? For someone who’s pursuing a career in public service, and maybe they’re earlier in their career or they wanna switch careers, what advice would you have for them? 

Laura Ebbert: I think that public service is a very unique calling and I really encourage people to consider public service. Whenever I see somebody who has joy at being part of something that’s bigger than themselves, whenever I see someone who likes to step up and be part of the solution, is a proactive partner when problems arise, whenever I see someone who wants the opportunity to grow and develop in a place. When I see somebody that gets energy from helping others fulfill their potential, and when I see someone who holds themselves to a high standard, not because other people are watching, but because history is watching. Somebody who has a sense that the things that we do, no small thing, right? 

There are no small things. Everything that we do is a part of something important. I think, gosh, you should come sit with us. I am constantly trying to recruit people to consider federal service because one of the things that I think is, is hidden from view if you’re not in federal service already, that I didn’t know until I came into federal service, is you can come into federal service and you can be one thing. 

You can be the greatest living expert on Safe Drinking Water Act compliance. That is fantastic. We have a seat for you. But there’s also room for people who want to build a multifaceted skillset. I myself have benefited from being able to change positions to grow, to learn new things, to try new things on, and potentially, you know, to take risks, right? 

With trying comes the opportunity to fail and figure it out and try again. I’ve had a lot of opportunity to grow and I think that that’s a really hidden side of federal services. We’re not just one thing. There’s a lot of room here for people who want to build a dynamic skillset for people who want to build a career of a variety of experiences. 

It’s a very welcoming environment for that. You can have an entire career’s worth of experiences, all, you know, in the same building, right? All here in the building that I work at, you could do many different things if you’re just interested enough to cross the threshold. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: I love that. And how about for you, Lauren? 

Lauren Boitel: I kind of have a similar background to Laura. My parents kind of always taught me not, not always through words, but through their actions to leave something better than you found it. My dad was military as well. I’ve lived in Las Vegas for 34 years now. I love Nevada. The real Nevada not the one most people see in movies or read about in newspaper articles. 

You know, there’s so much natural beauty in our state and a true spirit of hospitality. We care about our residents and welcome tens of millions of visitors from all over the world every year. And you know, our community used to be a very transient community. While that’s changing, I never wanted to be one of those people who saw some of the challenges in the community and just left. 

I was really frustrated by that. I wanted to stay and work to make it better. So, projects like this, environmental justice work, sustainability, other collaborative work with and through either local, state, or federal government, I think is the most impactful way to do that. And to contribute to a community that you can be proud of. 

So, my biggest advice would be start early, start now. Even if there’s an opportunity that doesn’t align with, say, your school program or what you think your goals are, if there’s not a job opportunity volunteer, any step you take will be a stepping stone that, again, might not make sense now, but when you look back, it will lead to the career that you end up having and, and really doing this impactful work. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Is there anything either of you, Laura, Lauren, wish that Kevin and I had asked anything that you would love to add to this conversation before we close? 

Laura Ebbert: Lauren, anything from you?  

Lauren Boitel: I think we covered why we do what we love and why other people should, if, if they care about similar things. I think we told a really positive story but I also think we’re very honest. There are some challenges, but why they’re there and what you can do to overcome them. So I think we got it covered!

Laura Ebbert: I love it. I share your perspective, Lauren. I think that we have a lot to be proud of, but it’s, it’s never enough. I am conscious of the fact that the work that we do is never enough to meet the full needs of communities that we serve. And we’re very conscious of that. We talk a lot about it. 

You know, this work is a series of strategic decisions. We have to figure out how to invest. Our deepest energy for the things that are most important, and you know, just sort of constantly chip away at a pile of, of issues that we could be working on. And so, you know, trying to continue to be informed about what issues communities have is one of the biggest parts of this job. 

So we have a lot of ways that we maintain connections and create space for communities to give us input and information that we wouldn’t otherwise have. I just really feel like that curiosity is one of the things that really helps us be successful in this work, the idea that we do not have all the answers, and it’s so important for us to reach out and seek to be informed by other people’s perspectives. 

 The only other thing that I might want to say is to give folks, especially younger listeners who might be hearing this podcast, I don’t want to leave people with the impression that at least I personally have all the answers. I really feel like every day is a journey into the unexpected. 

And again, that curiosity, that desire to do the best that I can and to receive feedback and readjust is the thing that really guides me. I think that there’s a, a great sense, you know, there’s this veneer of professionalism that leads people to believe that they might not belong in a chair like the one that I fill. 

And I, I just want to make sure that folks understand you belong here if you’re interested in federal service, if you would like to come, you know, work in public service, in any capacity in a community, in the federal government, in the state government where you live, you belong here. You are doing yourself and the world no favors by sitting back and observing the actions of others. People are called to this work. People are invited into these spaces. People are sitting at these tables because they have something to add to the conversation. And you know, just, just wanting to encourage people to take an active role in the society that we have because we don’t have all the answers. 

And the only way that we improve the place that we live is by participating. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: This has been a very important conversation. Thank you so much Laura and Lauren for joining me and Kevin. Just really gratified for all the work you’re doing and for sharing in the way that you did. Thank you.  

So Kevin, we just heard some really great things from Laura and Lauren. Is there a particular point that stood out to you that you’d like to start with? 

Kevin Johnson: I think just like the legacy of public service. Like even though you may not directly work in the communities, but how your parents and others talk about it. And I think that’s something that we often overlook, that we see service in terms of people who are within our reach, like our family members, friends and things like that. 

But not necessarily the, the community at large. Like for me, that’s a big point of emphasis that we can’t do this by ourselves. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: And when, Lauren had said near the end that it was frustrating to see people leave the community when there’s challenges to be dealt with. And she made that intentional choice to be somebody who was going to stay and help,  

Kevin Johnson: Yeah, and that was my biggest point too, like amplify, you just said it’s how important it is for community members to understand not only what the challenges are, but also have a commitment to improve them. Cause I think so oftentimes it’s easy for us to shoot off a quick email or to complain about what’s not working, but how many people are willing to put in their time and effort to make it better, not only for yourself, but also for your fellow neighbors. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Laura kept using, saying the phrase like, how hard this work is, and she used how hard it is also with joy. And what struck me was when she said near the end, you know, the work we do is never enough. And, and she said, we talk a lot about that, and it’s a series of these strategic decisions because they’re, they’re chipping away at a pile of issues. So it’s not like, yay, one, $200,000 grant is solving it all right? That’s not it. And all of these decisions that have to be made. And then here they are, EPA saying, wait, we shouldn’t make all the decisions. Let’s see what the community has to say. 

Kevin Johnson: Also their energy and their passion, I guess is the right word that we often use in the space, but it’s still going to, the word that Laura used several times is that 

empathy, and again, understanding that you, yourself, you can do things by yourself, for yourself, but again, having that empathy to do it for other people around you. 

I still like, that just hits home for me. It’s like if we had more people in our communities who were active, but also understood, how can I be more active? And I think that’s also a part of the responsibility of the Partnership in other organizations in our space to communicate that to individuals because they may not know how to figure that out on their own. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: And that empathy leads to the curiosity and the listening. Because also, and it’s funny because knowing your background, while you’ve got the leadership skills, you also have some of the, like the more technical expertise from other professions in your past. And her saying, okay, data scientists and engineers and others, I know the data is telling the story, but here’s this human being right in front of you telling you a different story. So what do we do with that and how do we find a solution based on the facts and the reality at hand? How did, yeah, how did that part strike you? 

Kevin Johnson: It struck me hard because like you just said, you see so many very technically savvy people, but they lose sight of why you’re doing this. You can take it from everything from environmental scientists to computer scientists, to even civil engineers who are working on roads and highways and things like that to understand like, you’re designing this for people. 

You’re just not designing this for designing purpose. And again, how can we drive that home and integrate that into not only their mindsets, but part of me also feels like it’s part of their education, like as you’re coming up through school and other things like that.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Right. Like doctors having the, the session on the bedside manner and the patient intake.  

Kevin Johnson: Yeah, exactly, and that shows like that’s how you, for doctors in particular, that’s how they decreased, lawsuits and other liabilities because, Patients trusted them. They felt heard, they felt listened to, and again, we started thinking about the government and why there is a louder volume around distrust and lack of services. Maybe it is that missing piece that Laura talked about is listening and understanding their needs. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: And I think in Lauren when she also talked about that you have something that’s set up as a grant, but even, but that grant cannot work without all of the, the infrastructure and the processes. Mixed with all, with the empathy and the listening. Like it’s a whole package. It’s not, you know, you might think of a grant as a checklist and a piece of paper and that is not the whole story to get to where you need, and this, we heard a very similar. Story when we interviewed EDA and from their community partner it was exactly the same. So I’m really heartened to hear this trend happening, you know, this year in government. I think it’s wonderful and, and for what they’re doing for communities. 

Kevin Johnson: Yeah, and I love that the analogy she used was a bouquet of like partners and things like that, and I’m like, yes, they are flowers.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher: It’s so lovely and there’s many different kinds. 

Kevin Johnson: Yes. You need all the different kinds to come together to make something that is so beautiful. Yeah. It’s like when I heard the analogy, I was like, that’s a strange one. But now that I think about it, it’s actually a really fitting one, especially thinking about the environment. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: That’s right. And actually, I think that’s the perfect note to end on. So Kevin, thank you so much for joining me on this conversation. 

Kevin Johnson: Yeah. Thank you, Rachel. 

Transition Music 

Abigail Alpern Fisch: So that’s our show, thanks so much for listening! If you haven’t already, please follow or subscribe to “Profiles in Public Service” wherever you get your podcasts. 

You can also check this episode’s show notes to learn more about today’s topic and be sure to follow the Partnership for Public Service on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram to find out about future episodes!  

“Profiles in Public Service” is created by the Partnership for Public Service.  

 I’m, Abigail Alpern Fisch, our writer and producer for today’s episode 

Our script supervisor is Barry Goldberg. 

And our executive producer is Jordan LaPier.  

See you next time!