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Launching and managing a grounded, equity-centered, and scalable sustainability curriculum for communities in Northeastern Illinois and beyond

Lake & Cook Counties, Illinois

Featured image for the project, Launching and managing a  grounded, equity-centered, and scalable sustainability curriculum for communities in Northeastern Illinois and beyond

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

There are considerable inequities in environmental quality between communities in northeastern Illinois with some of the most well-resourced communities in the state, as well as other communities facing disinvestment and marginalization . Issues such as legacy pollution as well as uneven deployment of sustainability solutions have the potential to deepen these inequities. Multigenerational outreach to community members, in particular youth, (and organizations) is critical to diversifying sustainability leadership, upholding equity in sustainability, and empowering underserved and environmental justice communities. With an increase in community engagement and leadership that is equity-minded in their sustainability policies, the region can avoid increasing inequities as we ramp up action to address the climate crisis and other environmental hazards. This Thriving Earth Exchange project will build on the existing work that has been done by Together for Nature and partners, including mentorship for young sustainability leaders in the region as well as community organizing, to roll out their Changemakers curriculum.


Together for Nature would like to engage underserved and environmental justice communities as well as learn from and lift their perspectives to inform and develop long term community-driven sustainability work. The ideal result of this work will be to distribute grounded and lived-in environmental and sustainability knowledge that is more actionable and equitable than previous educational efforts in the region. The primary goal of the project is the completion of the Changemakers curriculum to support the upcoming rollout, testing, and adaptive management of the Changemakers curriculum over roughly the next year, with a secondary goal of adapting the curriculum and workshops into ally training/organizational equity trainings. 

The audience for the primary goal is members of underserved and environmental justice communities who are high school-aged and older, with the aim of a truly multigenerational audience. The deliverable here will be interactive lessons conducted as virtual workshops, with each lesson being 2 hours long. The TEX community scientist will assist in the drafting of the lessons but does not need to be present for the workshops themselves (but is welcome to assist depending on availability and logistics).  Each lesson has a section for introduction/definitions, connections to NE Illinois, equitable analysis of current solutions, community feedback, sustainable lifestyles tips, leadership tools, and priorities survey. 

The secondary goal of creating ally trainings builds on the ability for the community feedback received during the launch of the curriculum (as well as the wealth of knowledge contained in the lessons themselves) to be adapted into material that can help other organizations in the region improve their equity work and influence action in the region to be more community-informed and equitable.

About the Community

The community of Northeastern Illinois is the focus of Together for Nature’s work and the target for their Changemakers Project. The region is heavily populated and ranges from highly urbanized areas to more suburban communities and small municipalities, including multiple environmental justice communities.  The region is home to unique prairie and shoreline ecosystems but also has been home to intense industrial activity which continues to pose environmental and human health hazards, and the economic power of local industries is a barrier to improving environmental quality. Together for Nature has expertise of the community and sustainability topics and is close to completing a curriculum for their Changemakers project with the goal of preparing “leaders and underserved and environmental justice communities to lead change for equitable sustainability and environmental justice”.  They are working with Thriving Earth Exchange to be connected to people with relevant experience that can facilitate in finalizing the curriculum and in adaptive educational program management and environmental equity work as well as to be able to share knowledge with organizations doing similar work. Due to historic pushback from public policymakers and environmental organizations in previous advocacy work, Together for Nature is taking a pragmatic approach to increasing equity in sustainability work by preparing community members from underserved communities to be future environmental leaders while keeping an eye to how this curriculum rollout can inform future advocacy work. 

Project Team

Community Lead


Katie Carranza

Katia Carranza is the co-founder of the Together for Nature nonprofit in NE Illinois. Together for Nature is focused on equitably empowering NE Illinois communities to improve the social and environmental conditions through education, leadership, and advocacy. Over the past ten years, she has been a community organizer that has mobilized my communities for environmental justice, equity in sustainability, fair trade, and immigrant rights. She is currently a graduate student in Natural Resource Sciences, and collaborates with Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance to conduct research focused on supporting the socioecological resilience of Indigenous people, and she is serving a grasslands Indigenous Kinship Circle in compiling their priorities into strategy and implementing equitable engagement across North America. Katia is committed to continue collaborating with her underserved, migrant, Indigenous, and frontline communities to advance their vision for equitable sustainability that heals our social and environmental relationships.

Community Science Fellow

Anne Jansen is a recent graduate of the Master of Urban Planning and Policy program at the University of Illinois at Chicago specializing in environmental planning and policy and building a career in urban planning and climate resilience. She previously received a Bachelor of Arts in Geography from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a focus on environmental geography and geographic information science (GIS). Anne has a longtime interest in environmental conservation and climate action. which has been the driving force in her professional and academic work. While originally more familiar with environmental conservation in rural and suburban areas, she shifted her focus to the field of urban planning due to its potential for advancing climate change mitigation and resilience goals at the community scale and with an emphasis on the interactions between humans and the environment.

Scientist Wanted

We are looking for a scientist with a background in community-based sustainability, whether this is a degree in a related field, work experience, previous volunteer experience, or experience in community organizing in sustainability. The scientist should have experience in environmental education or communications. Remote engagement is okay. Student engagement is okay but preference for working with volunteers with experience that is as robust as possible.

The scientist should have the ability to distill complicated sustainability topics into accessible, understandable lessons targeted at the general public.  Additionally, the volunteer should be able to bring knowledge in environmental policy and decision-making and how to navigate power structures and communicate with different audiences.

Activities will include research, content drafting, and providing feedback on formatting and implementation of lessons and workshops

Desired Skills and Qualifications:

  • Educators or communications specialists knowledgeable in sustainability and environmental justice issues
  • Knowledge and experience working with sustainability topics such as: recycling and curricular economy, clean Transportation/Walkable cities/Air pollution/Affordable transportation, health equity, sustainable agriculture, nature based solutions, climate change mitigation
  • Experience with environmental justice and working with underserved communities
  • Respect for diverse groups of people and types of knowledge
  • Public policy, planning,  and/or  public administration expertise, or general knowledge of environmental governance is a plus
  • Volunteers will be assigned a lesson based on their interests and expertise within the sustainability curriculum to research and draft content for. These lessons will ultimately be presented to community members in a workshop format (both virtual and in person)


Thriving Earth Exchange asks all scientific partners to work with the community to help define a project with concrete local impact to which they can contribute as pro-bono volunteers and collaborators. This work can also position the scientists and communities to seek additional funding, together, for the next stage.


Interested in volunteering as a scientist? Apply now!