What Authentic Engagement Looks Like

The right place at the right time, Austin resident Jeff Crunk knows a little about that. He started really thinking about the severity of climate disruption after he had a daughter in 2008, but when the climate bill in Congress went down in flames in the summer of 2010, he was at a real low point.

That's when he discovered the Sierra Club, and vice-versa. "I got an email from a Sierra Club staffer who'd seen my very personalized comments on an action email to the Austin mayor about moving beyond coal," says Crunk. "She had been screening the action responses, saw mine, got in touch with me, and asked if I'd be willing to write a letter to the editor. And I did."

From there he met with the staff member who emailed him - former community organizer Flavia de la Fuente. That launched Crunk's volunteer activism into overdrive. He's now one of the lead volunteers on the Austin Beyond Coal Campaign after having helped start the campaign several years ago.

"She didn't have to ask twice. I was pleased that there was a way to do something more meaningful than just changing a light bulb," laughs Crunk.

Coal burning is responsible for nearly one-third of U.S. carbon emissions--the air pollution that is the main contributor to climate disruption. Crunk is taking a stand to leave a better world for his daughter and future generations.

He's had many memorable moments and actions since he started his Austin Beyond Coal work, but a few stand out for Crunk.

"On Earth Day two years ago we did an aerial photo of 400-500 people in Austin spelling out 'Beyond Coal.' That was fun to organize and satisfying to pull off."

Crunk has also enjoyed getting to know the other Beyond Coal organizers nationwide. "Meeting with them has given me a sense of the bigger picture, which I didn't have before," he says.

And I can attest that the Beyond Coal team has loved getting to know him as well. Volunteer leaders such as Jeff are why we are going to win on the fight against climate disruption. We can't do it alone, and each person that takes on a leadership position gets us that much closer. Jeff now organizes his own climate meet-ups in Austin, educates public officials with other team members, and strategizes and recruits other volunteers.  He's a superstar.

There's plenty of Beyond Coal work to do in Austin, from educating residents to getting the city to retire its coal plant. Crunk encourages other people who are feeling helpless about climate disruption to find local groups to get involved in…and if none exist, start their own and network.

My experience with Jeff reinforces that the first step in building volunteer leaders is to identify a prospect pool of potential leaders to sit down with to have a one-on-one meeting.  Those one-on-one meetings are key for any organizer to start building a public relationship with potential leaders.  Organizers can then build on those relationships with leaders through house parties, outreach, trainings and other leadership development opportunities.  A general rule of thumb is that it takes 8-10 one-on-one meetings to identify a leader.  

Trainings are another critical component.  We have organized leadership trainings for the Austin Beyond Coal team on everything from one-on-one meetings to strategy to campaign planning to running a successful house meeting drive.  Training empowers existing and new leaders to give critical input on strategy and engage in decision making about what works in their communities with the goal of training leaders to create strategies based on their resources.

Eva Hernandez is the Senior Organizing Manager for Sierra Club in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Oklahoma working for the Beyond Coal campaign and environmental justice.  Before working with Sierra Club, Eva worked for national environmental and social change organizations including MoveOn.org, GreenCorps, Dogwood Alliance, & Corporate Accountability International. Eva currently lives in Austin and is a proud new mom.

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Eva Hernandez