Emporia State University geology and chemistry students signed up for a course with Dr. Marcia Schulmeister and Dr. Qiyang Zhang for a comprehensive look at sources, transport, reactions, and effects of chemical species in the hydrosphere, the lithosphere, and the atmosphere. And their 2020 field trip to wrap that all up came last weekend.
Fifteen students and their instructors join in a movie and a meal at the end of their first full field day learning just how Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma roll when dealing with the superfund issues that connect us through every possible "sphere" and eight spent an overnighter with us at the LEAD Agency as their "indoor campground."
It is quite a thing to have wall-to-wallers, but it was not the first time the instructors had brought students to our area and not our first overnight-shared experiences. Not a one of these visitors were ever hungry while with us, not possible with the gourmet meals Michael Scruggs prepared. When students invade a space like they do, there is a magic that seems to transform our regular office into a 3-dimentional environmental justice classroom. The instructors have been coming almost every other year, when that particular class is offered, we have been a selected section for it. The previous group was so moved by their experiences with us, they went back to their university, weighed through the campus rules and regulations and established the first environmental club on their campus. It may be awhile before we know what comes from this go around. But we wait and wonder. But know they went back to their seats in the vans knowing more deeply how science touches the lives of the people exposed to the toxins they simply had known only well enough to identify as specimens in their geology classes.
Out on the Toxic Tour Earl Hatley led they found specimens, but they were amazed when the containers Dale Allen had donated were pulled out and they each one could sort through and take the one that spoke to them. His uncle, George Wayne Morgan Jr. had been a miner for years in the Picher field and he walked each of these out at the end of a hard days work. They are beauties! But nothing is as cool as seeing geology students see the quartz or feel the weight of a real piece of lead!
Service Learning has been part of my life for a quarter of a century, so the what else these students wanted to do for us? Dr. Marcia had asked, "If there are unanswered water and chemistry questions, let us know what they are and we can try to contribute to the solutions."
They intended to collect soil samples for us from our flooded areas and analyze for the possibility of the mining metals they had studied and then now had hard samples to take home. It is hard enough knowing we flood but to know or imagine or FEAR that each time we flood we get another deposit of metals from our Tar Creek or the backwater flooding from the Neosho as it washes back on us what Tar Creek had just shared with her.
We have an XRF set up in our office. What's that? It is our very own x-ray machine, registered with the state, that allows us to analyze items, paint, soil for the elements they are made of, the elements on the periodic table. It is an old instrument almost an antique, but still is functioning as a tool to let us test items for community members, for mothers with lead poisoned children to help determine where the lead might be so it can be removed to protect their child from further exposure. We were able to share how it works and why it is important for our organization to have it and the ability it gives us to help.
It is a funny thing we have been saying a long time around LEAD Agency, we work hard for no money, but it is amazing what we can get done with loyal, dedicated help and programs that allow our help to get paid, whether that is through AmeriCorps/VISTA, AARP or the WIOA. Countless unpaid volunteers, students earning the time through service they need for their scholarships or for those who need to perform some hours engaged in community service, all help us do our work.
I retired early at 53 and that retirement has allowed me to generally work for no pay at a position that gives back more than a paycheck. But every once in awhile there is a knock at the backdoor and a couple walk in bringing a check for $100 dollars, or another couple leaves the brand new vacuum cleaner we need at the office because we used the last one up cleaning a home for a lead poisoned child.
We keep the doors open for serious research at LEAD Agency, we will put the coffee on, and chairs on the front porch. There is a need in this community for an organization like LEAD Agency and we are stronger with your support and sometimes we make room for overnighters.
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim
Rebecca Jim is executive director of the LEAD Agency