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Scrapbook: Great Work for the Great Lakes

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October 03, 2011

Great Work for the Great Lakes

RochesterECOs in Michigan
Italia, second from the right, is a Sierra Club member who heads Rochester ECOs.

When Italia Millan moved to Michigan from Mexico more than 10 years ago, she made sure to pack her environmentalism and bring it with her.

"In Mexico I heard a lot about Greenpeace. They didn't have an office here in Michigan, but they recommended the Sierra Club. My husband and I visited the local group, and we loved it because it was a grassroots group with friendly and dedicated people," she said.

Since moving to Michigan, Italia has made her mark. She recently joined the Sierra Club's Borderlands Team. And, in 2007 she and her husband, Don Hughes, became chair and vice-chair of a Great Lakes Team called Rochester ECOs, which has stenciled thousands of storm drains that connect to the Great Lakes.

Rochester stenciling "There's still more out there and after two or three years they wear off and we have to go do them again. Right now we're stenciling in three different cities," she said.

Rochester ECOs partners and campaigns with other green groups like Local Motion Green and the Clinton River Watershed Council, which has an Adopt a Stream program. They also organize free monthly lectures on various topics such as toxic-free cleaning products and solar energy.

"We try to relate most lectures to water because of the Great Lakes, but we add other environmental topics if possible. Next month will be about protecting our ground water. November will be about greening your holidays," she said.

Italia says that during her 10 years in Michigan, she has seen the message resonate more.

Lecture on green cleaning products
Rochester ECOs puts on monthly lectures, like this one on green cleaning products.

"I've seen a difference in the responses we get. When we go to events and we have a couple of petitions, I see people really wanting to protect the Great Lakes. There's a lot of will out there. When we go stenciling and talk to neighbors, they're very grateful that we're there and they welcome our message. I think things are getting better, but we have to keep protecting our water," Italia said.

"Everything affects water. The entire place is a watershed and everything we do affects it. We can make a difference. We've seen it while monitoring our creeks and lakes. Everything helps -- the trash clean ups, the use of natural ingredients to clean. Not using pesticides. We just have to keep spreading the message."

Learn more about Rochester ECOs and the Sierra Club's Great Lakes Program.

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