“Roll up your sleeves. Live what you believe.”
One family’s email discussion leads to climate action
By Princella Talley
Sam Saltonstall had been living in Brunswick, Maine, for six months when he saw a notice for a local CCL chapter meeting. As a former teacher with 40 years of experience who was actively involved in multiple sustainability efforts, Sam was intrigued by CCL’s methodology. “I thought, just maybe I should get involved with an organization trying to get something very specific done on national policy,” he shares.
After attending a few chapter meetings, Sam became what he cheerfully describes as “rapidly involved,” writing letters to the editor and creating custom presentations about climate change and policy solutions. He explains that while we have to adapt to human-caused climate change, there’s still a lot we can do to make things better for future generations. “That’s the focus I try to have when I present,” he says.
CCL’s bipartisan values resonated with Sam. With a smile, he says, “I’ve always been kind of a middle-of-the-roader politically. I continue to dream that someday we’ll figure out how to have a more bipartisan atmosphere in Washington.” He did his part to build that bipartisan atmosphere when he attended CCL’s 2018 conference in Washington, D.C. “Going to my first national conference and seeing the enthusiasm and the sense of humor in CCL volunteers was inspiring.”
A personalized, respectful approach to family outreach
Sam soon felt compelled to share his CCL work and concerns about climate change with his family. “I come from an old New England family, and there’s a long tradition in my family of getting together at Thanksgiving. Every now and then, there’s something going around in the family in terms of email. I thought, okay – I’m not going to hide this concern of mine under a bushel basket. I’m going to email them,” says Sam.
Sam’s approach was subtle, yet effective. He provided relevant information about climate change via email, but also expressed that anyone who was uncomfortable with the topic could be removed from the email message thread. He adds, “In the emails, I’d typically provide a link to things I think they’ll be interested in. I was pretty careful not to be too pushy. My advice is to be gentle in how you approach people.”
So, how did Sam’s family take his emails? “From many, there was was no response. From many others, there were ‘thank you’s for hearing from somebody who was actively involved in doing something positive about climate change,” he says.
A receptive audience
Sam’s messages really resonated with his niece, Hillary Twining. She says, “I have a tendency to feel overwhelmed by the subject matter, and it sometimes feels like there’s no way forward, that the partisanship in our country is too great.” But Sam’s emails helped Hillary see climate change as a challenge that can be approached with optimism, while working toward solutions. “Sam was an elementary school teacher, and he communicates at a clear level for people, stripping out some of the science talk, speaking directly about why this issue matters and what we can do about it,” she explains.
Plus, the issue hits close to home for Hillary. “I have a 12-year-old daughter, so it’s very real to me. I see the leadership coming from young people, and we have to think about the world we’re leaving for them,” she says.
As she learned more from Sam, Hillary also came to admire CCL’s ability to stay the course on climate advocacy. “What’s most compelling is the persistence and especially the optimism that CCL brings to this work. CCL continues to do the work even when it isn’t sexy and headline-grabbing, which gives me a further sense that this organization is in it for the long haul, and is persistent and stubborn in the best ways.”
From family discussion to action
After Sam started the climate conversation, his family kept it going! After a few months of conversation and email exchanges, several family members decided to make a collective gift to CCE and CCL in honor of Sam’s work and in memory of Sam’s sister, Debby. Hillary initiated the idea, and her father and brother joined in. They then invited the rest of the extended family to join them. This resulted in over $40,000 being donated in support of our climate solution work!
“It was a complete surprise to me when Hillary, her brother, and their father got involved and all three wanted to make a donation,” Sam says. “I had no idea it was coming, and I had nothing to do with it directly.”
Hillary says giving a shared family gift to CCL was about much more than a donation. “My brother, father, and I wanted to give our gift in honor of my mother, Debby, who died a couple of years ago. She was such a determined and fun person. She was all about civic engagement from the time I was a little kid. I remember her being a volunteer for the League of Women Voters. She would fundraise for public schools and boards and did the kind of work that made the community a great place to live. She was all about rolling up your sleeves and living what you believe. We felt like it was important for us to do something that would honor her in a way that was about political action, education, and public awareness.”
This spirit pervades the whole Twining/Saltonstall family. Hillary explains, “We don’t take ourselves too seriously, but we know it’s really important to be engaged in a community. I think CCL is a perfect outlet for that.” Hillary says her grandparents taught her, “To carry things forward, you need to get out and pay it forward in both philanthropy and in action.”
Hillary shares, “For me, this is all about participation. It’s not about a dollar amount.” Political identities within the Twining/Saltonstall family are spread across the political spectrum, including both Democrats and Republicans. But the family has a shared concern for the environment, and Hillary finds it refreshing to have an avenue to engage the entire family around a common concern. This participation brings the family closer together and advances a solution that both the Republicans and Democrats in the family can find common ground on.
Every day, CCL volunteers make great things happen in Congress, city councils, churches and local communities. We thank these members of the Twining/Saltonstall family for showing that, sometimes, great things can happen right here at home.
Princella Talley is a Development Associate and Diversity Outreach Coordinator with CCL. She also leads the Climate and Culture Action Team and CCL chapter in Alexandria, LA.