We’ve all met someone like Kelsey Crane. You know, the kind of person who radiates an infectious sense of energy and passion.
“I’m like an undying optimist,” Crane says. “I never want to lose my idealism, and I never want to lose the concept that we are all inherently good. I like that. It helps me go to sleep at night.”
Kate Johnston can tell you. She met Crane five years ago, when both were still students at Eastern Washington University. They’d worked together on community projects such as the school’s annual Food Day event.
To Johnston, who now works for the bicycle-advocacy group Washington Bikes, Crane is “just an inspiring person.”
“I’ve been impressed with Kelsey more and more as time goes by,” Johnston adds. “As those five years have passed, she’s just continued to be involved in sustainability-oriented and health-oriented community projects around the area. And all with a fantastic, positive personality.”
Spend five minutes with Crane and you’re likely to agree. A native of Sammamish, Washington, the 28-year-old Crane will tell you how she’s traveled solo through South America. How she lived for a while in Ecuador – in an “eco-village high in the Andes,” she says – and experienced what life is like without electricity.
She’ll talk about her visit to Nicaragua as part of a program called The Real Food Challenge, which encourages university students to work at convincing their schools to buy food that is locally produced and ecologically sound. She’ll talk about living with a social activist in Buenos Aires, a woman who was making a documentary film about that country’s various governmental overthrows.
Yet while admitting that the hardships of her South American trip – which she refers to as a “soul journey” – tested her natural upbeat sensibilities, she remains positive about the impact it made on her desire to make the Earth a better place.
“It was a very intense journey,” she says, “but it was really good.”
Crane’s social ideals were formed at a young age, shortly after her family moved to rural Sammamish. In her neighborhood, she says, you could find a meat market, a Safeway store, a few houses and more trees than she could count. As the years passed, though, trees gave way to housing developments – with an occasional “mini-landslide” reminding home-owners of how important tree-root systems are to soil stability.
“I started getting really focused on environmental issues,” she says. “I like to think we all have something inside of us that, once it gets triggered, can’t really go back.”
Thanks to the Running Start program that connected Sammamish’s Eastlake High School with Bellevue College, Crane graduated high school with almost enough credits for an associate’s degree. After taking some time off, she entered a four-year program that EWU had just instituted at Bellevue College, which allowed her to earn a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies with a minor in communication.
It was then, in 2009, that Crane embarked on her sojourn through South America. Upon her return, she worked for a short while for Greenpeace, a stint that further stoked her activist fires. Then she moved to Cheney and entered EWU’s graduate program in Urban and Regional Planning. Among her professors was Gabor Zovanyi, author of “The No-Growth Imperative: Creating Sustainable Communities Under Ecological Limits to Growth.”
The influence of Zovanyi and others was profound. “Professor Zovanyi is really into the numbers game,” Crane says. “He knows that with our rate of growth right now, we’re already at an unsustainable place. We’re over-impacting the Earth. How many bodies are here? Right now we’re headed toward 8 billion people on the planet.”
Having earned her master’s degree, Crane now works for EWU’s Dining Services as, she says, “an administrative assistant for sustainability initiatives.” The position, which she says has evolved over time, provides her the opportunity to engage in projects that keep her “committed and involved. And aware.”
Crane has, for example, had a hand in maintaining the university’s Campus Garden, helped organize the school’s annual Food Day events and took a leading role in coordinating EWU’s inaugural Sustainability Symposium, which was held Feb. 25.
Laurie Morley, a professor of physical education and director of EWU’s Health and Fitness program, remembers when Crane was one of the key student organizers of the university’s sustainability movement.
“Her passion is probably second to none at some level,” Morley says. “Without her and several other students, a lot of things wouldn’t have gotten done.”
These days, Morley added, Crane’s energy at times has to be reined in. “It’s like, ‘No, you’re one of us now. You’re not a student. We need them to do it, not you,’ ” Morley says. “She’s so passionate.”
And proud, particularly of the Sustainability Symposium, which consisted of sessions ranging from a panel discussion on “Waste Biorefinery for Fuels, Fertilizers, Compost, and Biochar” to a lecture on yoga and holistic wellness.
“The idea was to give sustainability its holistic name,” Crane says, “to show people that sustainability seeps into every realm of life. To make it educational and to bring that awareness out on campus. And to make it fun.”
Besides her job at EWU, Crane participates in other community organizations, such as the Edible Tree Project, and she recently took a part-time position as an events coordinator for Sustainable Resources INW. Crane harbors dreams of one day working for the United Nations. But she’s found, at the same time, that working on a smaller level can be just as – perhaps even more – effective. And satisfying.
“You can affect things on a global level,” she says, “but not to the point that you can locally. And since I’ve been working on a local scale, and as a local advocate, I’ve seen the fruits of my labor. And not just my labor, but I’ve seen how collaboration is key. I’ve seen how when you serve your community, things happen.”
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