The 2021 Hoosier Resilience Heroes include professionals, students, and volunteers dedicated to growing sustainable food, promoting environmental justice, preparing Indiana for the impacts of climate change, and more. Read about the heroes and their contributions to their communities and the state.
2021 Hoosier Resilience Heroes
Senior, Riverside High School
INDIANAPOLIS—Angel-Hannah Akinleye is the student director of Youth Environmental Press Team, an initiative to promote Indiana high school journalism that focuses on climate change and other environmental challenges. Her leadership in this venture is an outgrowth of her desire to educate and inspire youth and adults on the importance of climate action and environmental stewardship. Beginning in 2017, Akinleye has pursued her interest in environmental advocacy as an active contributor to Earth Charter Indiana, participating in the organization’s youth climate camps and other programming. As a member of the Indianapolis Mayor’s Youth Leadership Council, she lends her voice to the importance of environmental justice in her community and the need to prioritize marginalized communities and communities of color when planning climate action. Akinleye is also active in the statewide, youth-led climate action organization Confront the Climate Crisis. In college, she plans on continuing to be an environmental advocate.
Junior, West Lafayette Junior-Senior High School
WEST LAFAYETTE—Through multiple organizing efforts, Ethan Bledsoe is galvanizing residents in his hometown and young people across the state to push for meaningful climate action in Indiana. In West Lafayette, Bledsoe co-founded the youth-led West Lafayette Climate Strike, which planned multiple local climate strikes and worked with city officials to pass a climate resolution in 2019. Later, Bledsoe co-authored an amendment to the resolution to establish a 2038 carbon neutrality goal for the city and contributed to West Lafayette’s climate emergency declaration adopted in February 2021. To increase climate literacy in his community, Bledsoe developed a STEM-based, climate resilience campaign called Climate Kidz. The campaign engages local youth on resilience and sustainability through hands-on projects that span vertical gardening, composting, native plants, and little free libraries. Through West Lafayette Climate Strike, Bledsoe helped launch a statewide network for student climate activists in September 2020 called Confront the Climate Crisis. He is an active member of the Sierra Club Hoosier Chapter.
Executive Director, Groundwork Indy
INDIANAPOLIS—Since joining Groundwork Indy in 2015, Phyllis Boyd has fostered community-based partnerships that empower residents and promote environmental, economic, and social well-being. Through programs spanning youth development, greenways and parks, land redevelopment, and community health, Boyd has helped youth and adults connect with the natural world through gardening and outdoor recreation initiatives. A strong advocate for environmental equity, Boyd has participated in discussions on environmental justice and has advocated for inclusive green spaces. She and the youth of Groundwork Indy supported the effort to ensure the master plan for Riverside Regional Park, completed in 2017, engaged communities of color that had historically been cut off from the area’s green amenities. Currently, Boyd leads the community engagement and outreach effort for the conversion of the former Riverside Golf Course into a multi-use nature and adventure park and co-leads the RECLAIM project focused on transforming vacant lots into safe spaces that invite economic opportunity. Prior to joining Groundwork Indy, Boyd worked as a sustainable landscape architect and urban designer.
Environmental Justice Coordinator, Hoosier Environmental Council
INDIANAPOLIS—Through her work as a speaker, organizer and activist, Paula Brooks has devoted herself to educating others on environmental justice issues in Indiana. Her efforts have helped raise awareness of the disproportionate environmental health burdens shouldered by low-income communities and communities of color in Indianapolis and contributed to the inclusion of environmental equity as a key planning criterion of Indianapolis’ first resilience plan. She has led successful campaigns to stop projects that would expose marginalized communities to additional pollution and has guided community influencers on tours of neighborhoods that face heavy exposure to health hazards and lack access to green infrastructure and safe sidewalks and crossings. Additionally, Brooks has worked to encourage sustainable design of new infrastructure and advocated for the preservation of urban trees, which absorb stormwater and provide vital shade in the summer. Brooks, a 2019 Environmental Leadership Program Senior Fellow, also serves as the co-chair of the National Black Environmental Justice Network’s Environmental Justice Working Group and chair of the Rethink 65/70 Equity and Environmental Justice Committee.
Executive Director, Oak Heritage Conservancy
CROTHERSVILLE—A sustainable farmer and conservationist, Liz Brownlee is connecting Hoosiers in Southeast Indiana to the natural wonders of the region and helping build a network of young farmers who share her desire to make agriculture part of the solution to climate change. As the sole employee of Oak Heritage Conservancy, Brownlee helps landowners protect wildlife habitat, hosts nature programs, and helps steward the land trust’s 1,100 acres. Brownlee and her husband, Nate, spent years working on farms in the Northeast. They returned to Indiana in 2013 to turn her family’s farm into Nightfall Farm, a small-scale, diversified operation committed to local food and carbon-sequestering practices, such as rotational grazing. She co-founded the Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition to build a community of sustainable farmers in Indiana. Brownlee’s example on the farm—and among the nature preserves of Southeast Indiana—is inspiring a new generation of Hoosiers and helping revitalize rural communities.
Student, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis
INDIANAPOLIS—Miranda Frausto, a senior at IUPUI, began her climate advocacy work in high school. Serving as the head youth leader for the Promise Project, she and her peers worked with elected leaders in Carmel to draft and pass the first youth-led climate resolution in the state. Two years later, Frausto helped put the resolution into action as the City of Carmel’s Indiana Climate Fellow. There, Frausto conducted the city’s first greenhouse gas inventories of local and community emissions and laid the groundwork for Carmel’s climate action planning process. For the past three years, Frausto has served as an intern with the IUPUI Office of Sustainability, leading waste reduction and food recovery efforts and managing a composting pilot project for IUPUI Food Services, several food waste audits, and a sustainability speaker series. She currently serves as the co-director of the Campus Kitchen at IUPUI and has secured over $5,000 in funding to support efforts to combat food insecurity on campus.
INDIANAPOLIS—Gregg Keesling has been a leader in workforce development in Indianapolis for the past 25 years. He is the founder and president of RecycleForce, an Indianapolis-based employment social enterprise, and the alternative staffing social enterprise Keys2Work, which he founded with his wife, Jannett. RecycleForce delivers electronic waste management services, diverting millions of pounds of recyclable materials from landfills, including e-waste containing toxic metals that can contaminate the soil and water. Equally important, Keesling’s nonprofit has provided transitional employment, industry-recognized skills training, and ancillary services to thousands of ex-offenders. Evaluated as part of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Enhanced Transitional Jobs Demonstration, RecycleForce had outcomes that warranted a cost-benefit analysis. Its model, known as the ABC Model (Any Job – Better Job – Career), resulted in a 120 percent return on investment for society. By giving formerly incarcerated individuals a second chance, RecycleForce is remaking the things society throws away.
President, Mundell & Associates
INDIANAPOLIS—In his professional and personal life, John Mundell elevates the importance of caring for the environment. Since 1995, his company has provided earth and environmental consulting services to identify and remediate environmental challenges, such as groundwater contamination or buried waste, that pose threats to human health. To expand the impact of his business, Mundell hosts student interns from around the world, participates in local environmental events, and sponsors green service projects. As a founding member of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis (ArchIndy) Creation Care Ministry, Mundell has been instrumental in developing and implementing a comprehensive sustainability program for the archdiocese’s 128 parishes and 68 schools in central and southern Indiana. His passion for the environment has led to contributions on a global level. In 2020, Mundell worked with a Vatican commission to develop an online course on green entrepreneurship as part of the United Nations Development Programme. The course includes lessons on business, faith, and the planet.
Farmer, Jamie Scott Farms
PIERCETON—As an early adopter of agricultural practices that promote soil health and water quality, Jamie Scott has helped showcase the benefits of sustainable farming methods that sequester carbon and lower the environmental impact of farming. On his farm, Scott regularly hosts workshops and field days demonstrating the benefits of cover crops, no-till planting, pollinator habitats, permanent vegetation, and other practices. He opens his fields for soil health studies and welcomes local college students interested in ecology and land use. For 20 years, Scott has helped organize the aerial seeding of cover crops on approximately 100,000 acres in northern Indiana and southern Michigan. In addition to promoting regenerative methods, he is well known for his role in agricultural policy and leadership at the local, state, and national levels. A former president of the Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, he has advocated for conservation policies at the state and federal levels.
Resiliency Coordinator, Earth Charter Indiana
VALPARAISO—In 2020, Kathy Sipple spearheaded a grassroots effort to engage Northwest Indiana local governments in the creation of a regional greenhouse gas inventory, one of only a few regional-scale inventories to be planned in the country and the first in the state of Indiana. Over the course of the year, Sipple led planning meetings, organized volunteers, participated in city council meetings, and engaged elected officials. As a result, 14 local governments will be pursuing an inventory and regional climate action plan over two years in coordination with the Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission. The plan will result in tangible steps the region will take to mitigate climate change and boost resilience. Sipple, an Earth Charter Indiana Resiliency Coordinator, is a veteran environmental communicator and organizer. She is the host of the 219 GreenConnect environmental podcast and has participated in national climate leadership training programs, including Climate Reality Leadership Corps and Project Drawdown.
Director of Ecological Relationships, The Center at Donaldson
PLYMOUTH—Adam Thada, the first full-time director of ecological relationships at The Center at Donaldson (TCAD), carries on TCAD’s longtime commitment to sustainability, ecology, and earth education. In 2018 and 2019, Thada worked collaboratively to bring solar installations totaling 631-kilowatts to TCAD and Ancilla College, the largest solar installation at an Indiana college or university. A trained botanist and restoration ecologist, he also organized a BioBlitz biodiversity survey in partnership with the Indiana Academy of Sciences. Thada dedicates much of his time to initiatives that promote sustainability and environmental stewardship in the area. As a volunteer who is active in city and county government, Thada has been instrumental in multiple efforts that have supported walking and biking infrastructure, native plants, land stewardship, pollinator habitat, clean energy, and electric vehicles in the City of Plymouth and Marshall County. These projects have raised local awareness about the importance of climate mitigation.
President, Carmel Green Initiative
CARMEL—An engineer and sustainable living advocate, Leslie Webb has become synonymous with green initiatives in Carmel over the course of 15 years. In 2008, Webb founded the Carmel Green Initiative to cultivate an environmentally conscious community and promote policies to address climate change and reduce the city’s environmental impact. Since then, Webb has partnered with a growing network of residents, schools, churches, businesses, city staff, and elected officials to support and promote efforts that reduce energy waste, expand local investment in solar energy, promote recycling, and educate others. Among the programs Webb has jumpstarted is the Promise Project, a youth-led organization for kids who want to do something about climate change. The group, with Webb’s guidance, was instrumental in the City of Carmel’s adoption of the state’s first climate resolution in 2017. As Carmel works toward adoption of a climate action plan, Webb continues to guide others and build a shared vision of the city’s sustainable future.
Resiliency Coordinator, Earth Charter Indiana
RICHMOND—Alison Zajdel has been at the center of Richmond’s push to understand the city’s vulnerabilities to climate change and take action. Zajdel and Matt Evans, the City of Richmond’s GIS Coordinator, coordinated city efforts to assess Richmond’s preparedness for climate risks, such as heavy precipitation and extreme heat, through completion of the Hoosier Resilience Index Readiness Assessment. While chair of Richmond’s Sustainability Commission, Alison and fellow commission members facilitated the city’s first greenhouse gas inventory and are currently drafting a climate action plan to align with the city's newly adopted comprehensive plan. Now, Zajdel is leading grant writing efforts to help make the city’s plan a reality. An Earth Charter Indiana Resiliency Coordinator, Zajdel volunteers for a wide variety of community organizations and applies her experience in grant writing and capital campaigns to support environmental organizations and other causes.