The 2020 Hoosier Resilience Heroes include professionals and volunteers dedicated to sustainable agriculture, flood control, clean energy, environmental justice, and other aspects of environmental protection and resilience. Read how they are preparing Indiana for environmental change.
Inspector, Indiana Department of Natural Resources' Division of Water
INDIANAPOLIS—As part of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Water, Toby Adams works with the regulatory community and property owners near rivers and floodplains affected by flooding, bank erosion, and property loss or damage. With climate change bringing more extreme rain events and flooding, Adams goes above and beyond to educate farmers and landowners about how increased rainfall and runoff is affecting properties and why past solutions are no longer feasible, using data and scientific reports to persuade residents. He teaches Hoosiers how to address rising water levels and how to restore land in areas adjacent to floodplains. By empathizing with those affected by environmental change, Adams can better advocate for necessary fixes that prioritize the long-term health and safety of Hoosiers.
Assistant Director, Earth Charter Indiana
INDIANAPOLIS—Shannon Anderson is the assistant director of Earth Charter Indiana, a nonprofit focused on intergenerational action and education in the face of climate change. Since joining the organization in 2015, Anderson has been instrumental in expanding ECI’s programming, coordinating events such as Climate Leadership Summit, Renewable Energy Day at the Indiana Statehouse, and introducing new teaching tools in support of ECI youth camps and school events. Equally adept at communicating with a first grader as she is with a hydrologist, Anderson has broadened ECI’s digital audiences and has built partnerships with Indiana-based and national organizations. She has played a key role in helping ECI-affiliated youth successfully advocate for Climate Recovery Resolutions in cities across Indiana and has contributed to ECI’s Resiliency Clinic concept to bring community stakeholders together to create climate action plans. Anderson also serves on the executive committee of the Sierra Club Hoosier Chapter.
Principal Engineer, Christopher B. Burke Engineering
INDIANAPOLIS—As a professional engineer working in floodplain and urban stormwater management, Siavash Beik is a regional leader in incorporating future climate change projections and fundamental concepts of resilient design into long-term planning. In particular, Beik has been an advocate for resilient infrastructure design and sustainable floodplain management in Indiana in anticipation of growing populations and increasing flood risks associated with climate change. To help educate his peers and policymakers, Beik regularly participates in conferences and organizational meetings, such as those held by the Indiana Water Resources Association and the Indiana Association for Floodplain and Stormwater Management, sharing his professional experiences and the results of case studies. Additionally, Beik has published a number of technical guidebooks on sustainable practices. He volunteers extensively in the community to help the general public promote community resilience and preparedness.
Director, Felege Hiywot Center
INDIANAPOLIS— Aster Bekele, a longtime tutor and mentor to Indianapolis youth, founded the Felege Hiywot Center in 2004 to teach children science and leadership through gardening. At FHC, young people learn about where food comes from, how to grow it, and the science related to it as well as the importance of caring for the environment. The center’s environmental program also teaches youth the benefits of organic gardening, composting, and nourishing plants with captured rainwater. Following Bekele’s belief that every individual is gifted, no matter how difficult his or her circumstances, FHC relies on the youth themselves to figure out what is best to do in the gardens. Growing in knowledge and soft skills, they mentor younger participants, becoming leaders who are actively involved in transforming their neighborhood. The collaborative work jumpstarts conversations about culture, identity, and community. Sixteen years into the center’s existence, the center’s programs are largely run by teens who have been attending FHC since they were children.
Cummins PLANET 2050
COLUMBUS—In 2019, Indiana-based power solutions leader Cummins unveiled an ambitious plan called PLANET 2050 to reduce the environmental impact of its products and operations. The strategy includes aspirations to achieve carbon neutrality and near-zero pollution and waste by 2050. PLANET 2050 focuses on three priority areas—addressing climate change and air emissions, using natural resources in the most sustainable way, and improving communities—and includes eight specific goals for 2030 related to greenhouse gas emissions, packaging, waste, and water consumption. The plan considers the interests of all stakeholders and sets transparent goals and metrics to measure progress. Indiana-based members of Cummins’ PLANET 2050 team helped develop the plan, establishing a transparent model for businesses around the world to follow. Team members include: Karen Cecil, Anna Weimer, Laurie Counsel, Laura Jones, JJ Webb, Brijesh Krishnan, Alan Resnik, Zsofia Nagy, Michael Walker, Todd Wieland, David Genter, Kevin Brittain, Julie Wagner, Katie Zarich, Kelly Tingle, Blair Claflin, Anna Lintereur, Meredith Sanders, Brian Mormino, Steve Ferdon, Ilona Bissman, Jelling Lai, Avril Schutte, and Amy Smith.
Farmer, DeSutter Farms
ATTICA—Through speaking, interviews, and farm tours, Dan DeSutter has helped to educate thousands of farmers, landowners, conservation professionals, and others on the benefits of improved soil health, including benefits that help mitigate climate change. His advocacy for no-till farming, cover crops, and grazing has raised the profile of practices that contribute to building up carbon in soil. DeSutter not only talks about the impacts of regenerative agriculture, his personal experiences on his 5,000-acre farm in west-central Indiana demonstrate their effectiveness. When engaging audiences, DeSutter explains in detail the philosophy behind his crop management systems. He also challenges agricultural stakeholders to think through the costs of conventional farming practices, putting forth a broader vision of what is possible on the land. DeSutter’s message has been amplified by national media coverage, including a cover story in the New York Times. He also was one of three principle farmers featured in an acclaimed documentary called Living Soil.
Volunteer, Robing Run Village Green Team
INDIANAPOLIS—For 10 years, Bob Glass led the Green Team at Robin Run Village, a retirement community in northwest Indianapolis, working with residents to create a more sustainable and resilient community. Under Glass’s leadership, the Green Team initiated a recycling and composting program, organized an annual electronic and hazardous waste collection, and invited experts on environmental and resilience topics to speak to residents. Glass also helped organize environmental field trips and represented Robin Run Village as an organizing team member of Resilience Pike, which includes surrounding neighbors Pike Township and the City of Indianapolis. When Robin Run Village hosted a climate strike in 2019, nearly 200 students from nearby Pike High School attended, thanks to an ongoing relationship with the school facilitated by Glass. His efforts helped Robin Run Village earn a Platinum Level “Green Community Award” during Indiana’s bicentennial.
Founder, Tri-State Creation Care
EVANSVILLE—Caroline Nellis is an Evansville native who has been involved in extensive environmental work in the greater Evansville area. She established Tri-State Creation Care, the Evansville subsidiary of Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light, to bring individuals of all faiths together for environmental action. She serves as the Indiana 8th District Liaison of Citizens Climate Lobby’s Evansville chapter and has attended three national CCL events in Washington, DC, to speak with members of Congress about climate action. Nellis volunteered as leader of the Solarize Evansville team in 2019 and currently serves as Earth Charter Indiana’s Evansville Resiliency Coordinator. She has been an environmental activist and volunteer for many years, having been a current or past member of The Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club, Indiana Moral Mondays’ Environmental Justice Working Group, and the Environmental Education Association of Indiana.
Senior, Hamilton Southeastern High School
FISHERS—Vernice Riego, a senior at Hamilton Southeastern High School, has been working with city officials for the last eight months to craft a climate change resolution for the City of Fishers. She wants to ensure her hometown has a plan to mitigate and adapt to climate change. After attending a climate leadership training conference in August 2019, Riego met with public officials, legislators, and politicians at all levels of government to discuss environmental and sustainability bills and climate change resolutions. She has spoken publicly about climate action at several events, including Youth Climate Action Day at the Indiana Statehouse, giving voice to the concerns of young people across the state. As an active member of her Hamilton Southeastern’s environmental club, she has visited multiple schools in Fishers to educate her peers and younger students on sustainability and climate change.
Organizer, Northwest Indiana Youth Climate Council
Between graduating high school and starting college, Ethyl Ruehman decided to become a better advocate for the climate. In 2019, she attended climate leadership training in Minnesota and organized a youth climate rally in her hometown upon returning home. The rally attracted more than 150 people near Lake Michigan’s eroding shoreline. The strong response inspired Ruehman to create the Northwest Indiana Youth Climate Council to empower local youth who share her concern for the environment. A first-year student at Indiana University Northwest, Ruehman has organized demonstrations to raise awareness around environmental issues affecting northwest Indiana, such as lead contamination and toxic industrial pollutants. Having become a valuable bridge between young climate warriors and adult allies in the area, she strives to live a zero-waste lifestyle, promoting sustainable lifestyles and alternative fashion through social media.
Robert Whitaker and Madeline Hirschland
Co-founders, Creation Care Partners
BLOOMINGTON— Madeline (“Madi”) Hirschland and Reverend Robert (“Pastor Bob”) Whitaker co-founded Creation Care Partners in 2019 to engage faith communities across Indiana to serve as stewards of the gift of God’s Creation. Having worked locally and within their own congregations—Hirschland with Bloomington’s Congregation Beth Shalom synagogue and Whitaker with Evangelical Community Church— the duo joined forces to build on this common ground between their two faiths. Creation Care Partners aims to support evangelical churches and synagogues to procure solar panels and deeply reduce energy use in their houses of worship and homes. To help Hoosiers and their faith communities reduce the burden their energy use imposes on the least advantaged, Hirschland founded the Seventh Day Initiative and co-founded Solarize Indiana. Whitaker has organized workshops focused on stewardship of creation and has supported programs at his church to help members and the community preserve the earth for future generations.
Operations Manager, Purdue Climate Change Research Center
WEST LAFAYETTE—As the Operations Manager for the Purdue Climate Change Research Center, Melissa Widhalm is responsible for coordinating the Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment (IN CCIA), a series of scientific reports designed to help Hoosiers understand and prepare for the impacts of a changing climate. She is responsible for overseeing report development and dissemination, including serving as the first author of the IN CCIA climate report. To increase dialogue about climate change impacts in Indiana, Widhalm maintains the website for the Purdue Climate Change Research Center and frequently travels around the state to give presentations informing Hoosiers about what climate change is and specific ways it affects their daily lives. Because of her efforts, local governments, professionals, and community members have a better understanding of how Indiana’s climate has already changed over the last century and the climate change risks facing Hoosier communities in the coming decades.
Meet the heroes
Description of the video:The temperatures are rising in Indiana. The floodwaters, too. The environment Hoosiers depend on for their livelihood and their health is not as predictable as it used to be. Fortunately, there are leaders who recognize how serious the situation we face is and they are doing something about it. Let's call them Hoosier Resilience Heroes. Found in communities across the state, Hoosier Resilience Heroes share a deep concern for the environment and the future of Indiana. Let's meet a few. At Robin Run Village, a retirement community in northwest Indianapolis, residents are taking action to ensure a livable planet. A big reason why is fellow resident Bob Glass. For ten years, Bob has led the Green Team at Robin Run Village, working with residents to create a more sustainable and resilient community. Ten miles southeast of Robin Run, Aster Bekele founded the Felege Hiywot Center in 2004 to teach children science and leadership through gardening. Through Aster's urban farm, Indianapolis youth are enhancing neighborhood resilience one garden bed at a time. In Portage, 20-year-old Ethyl Ruehman shows her peers how to find their voices. Ethyl organized and led a youth climate rally at a local park near Lake Michigan's eroding shoreline. The strong response inspired Ethyl to create the Northwest Indiana Youth Climate Council, empowering the next generation of resilience heroes. These Hoosiers are three among many who are making Indiana a safer, healthier place to live. As Indiana prepares itself for the effects of environmental change, Hoosier Resilience Heroes will lead us forward, helping us to connect with our voices, our skills, our neighbors, and ourselves to protect our Hoosier communities.