“For Kathy, it was never good enough to do a litter pickup,” Mara Coyle said. “She would never let you say ‘I’ve got this down pat.’ Sure, she’d celebrate your success, but then, in a quiet way, she would push you to do something more.”
This attitude, friends, family, and co-workers said, was what propelled Kathy Kinzig’s efforts to build EcoEducation from a shoestring non-profit when she took the Executive Director’s job in 1997, into a $400,000-a-year organization serving 17 charter and public schools in Minneapolis and St Paul “with a waiting list as long as your arm,” EcoEducation Board Member Jane Prince said.
Kinzig died of bone cancer in December at age 43. Her family, friends, and former co-workers held a memorial service at the Lake Como Pavilion this past Saturday.
Kinzig’s EcoEducation program organizes middle- and high-school students to identify problems they want to solve in their communities. With their teachers, said Coyle (herself a 6th grade teacher at Battle Creek Middle School in St Paul), the students learn about the problem they’ve picked and brainstorm solutions. Coyle said her students have come up with everything from direct action projects like planting a rain garden to mitigate groundwater contamination, to writing raps and plays to educate their peers and the community, to advocacy. The students then write a grant application to EcoEducation, who then funds the student’s solutions.
When they start writing a grant to eco-ed, “kids are like ‘are we really going to do this?’” Coyle said. “They don’t believe at first that this isn’t just another class project, that it’s got an audience bigger than a teacher with a grade book.”
“I’ve had my sixth-graders testify before a state senate committee on mercury poisoning,” Coyle said, because of work they were doing using an EcoEducation grant.
Kinzig “had this attitude that you never underestimate a kid,” Coyle said.
For all her acclaimed work – according to Pierce, under Kinzig’s watch EcoEducation was recognized in each year of the St Paul Mayor’s Environmental Awards – Kinzig was “very humble, very quiet,” said her sister Anne Kinzig.
“When you met her, you didn’t realize what a presence she was because she was so unpresupposing.”
“She’d never be the center of the party,” Anne Kinzig said, “but she’d be quietly listening to the conversation, and always get a great zinger in, just at the right moment.”
Kinzig “lived what we wanted to teach the kids,” said John Poore, a former co-worker. He rattled off a list: “the way she transported herself, the clothes she wore, the food she ate, her integrity…”
Kinzig’s sister Anne said that one of her big concerns after being diagnosed with cancer was how to help EcoEducation carry on without her. Molly Johnston, EcoEducation’s Interim Executive Director , said that the organization would “stay on the course that Kathy, the Board, and the staff charted together.”
“We’re on the first year of a five-year growth plan…and we’ve got four schools on a waiting list to work with us,” Johnston said. “It’s good to be in a position where you’re limited only by the size of your staff.”
Along with her sister Ann, Kinzig is survived by her parents Richard and Sue Kinzig, of Palatine, Ill.; and brother John Kinzig, of Palatine, Ill., and Robert of Grayslake, Ill.
Kinzig’s family, Johnston said, had asked for a memorial donations go to EcoEducation or the Cottonwood Foundation, whose board she joined a few years before her death. EcoEducation would also welcome volunteers, she said. The organization is currently looking for community members who can help students investigate water and air quality, and food production and use in urban communities. Concerned citizens willing to be paired with students in an online forum as “e-mentors” would also be welcome, Johnston said. More info can be found here