Volunteer Spotlight: Chuck and Sharon Yohn
By Kendall Kosek
Chuck and Sharon Yohn, a couple who both teach at Juniata College, are CCL volunteers and founders of the Juniata chapter in Pennsylvania. Chuck is the Director of the Raystown Field Station in the Environmental Science and Studies Department and Sharon is an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. They regularly include climate change in their lectures, hoping to connect to their students and get them interested or involved in climate action.
The Yohns also have a daughter, Emily, who has lobbied with them in D.C., tabled with them in their community, and is always “willing to be dragged to another meeting,” Sharon jokes.
Today the Yohns shared with us a bit about themselves, their motivations, and how they want to increase engagement in their work life and community.
Tell us a little more about how climate change comes up in your work and your other activities.
Sharon: I teach introductory chemistry. Our second semester is themed around climate change, which gives me a great chance not only to teach chemistry but to talk about climate solutions. I am also the co-leader of the Sustainability Circle at the Stone Church of the Brethren. This is a great way to bring climate issues to our congregation.
Chuck: I manage an undergraduate field station that serves as an environmental branch campus for the college. I also teach wildlife and forestry and related courses. I frequently weave climate change information into my classes which students can find to be both provocative and depressing. It is great to belong to an organization actively working on climate change so that I can also hold up to my students hope and a chance to participate in a solution.
How did you first get connected with CCL?
Sharon: My worry about climate change had been increasing steadily. I gave some talks, made changes in my home, but mostly I felt despair. Then I attended a climate conference and had the opportunity to hear Jim Hansen speak. He promoted Citizens’ Climate Lobby, so I looked up the organization. I liked what I saw and signed up under the closest chapter, State College PA, 45 minutes away. I even received a personal phone call from Elli Sparks! I remember asking her, “Why should I support this organization instead of another?” I’m not sure what she said, but it must have been convincing.
I traveled to State College for their group start meeting and stayed involved. As the group grew stronger, I felt called to bring the message closer to home. Chuck and I gave a tag-team talk about wildlife and climate change—he told depressing stories about the effects of climate change, and then I moved us to climate solutions and CCL. There were enough interested students that evening to start the group, first as a club affiliated with the State College chapter, and then our own chapter.
Chuck: I married well.
What do you like about CCL?
The core values of this organization resonated with us in a way no other organization has done. What is most important to us is the focus on a feasible solution that matches the scale of the problem. Also critical is the emphasis on integrity. As scientists, we strongly believe in presenting correct information. We are also people who are not keen on creating conflict—our strong feelings don’t easily translate into protests or marches. CCL’s bipartisan approach and focus on creating relationships allows us to act on our passion in a way that matches our values. And finally—CCL is run by amazing people. Mark Reynolds inspires us, Danny Richter brilliantly educates us, and we could go on. It is a great feeling to be a part of an organization we can respect and admire.
Please tell us about your main efforts or projects within CCL.
Our main work has been to develop a chapter at Juniata College and facilitate the engagement of college students. We are particularly proud of our “Climate Solutions Week.” It is easy to find talks and events that focus on the bad news, but we use this week to focus on solutions. We have events Monday through Friday and advertise heavily among students, faculty, and the community. Events include tabling, letter writing, trivia games, talks, movies and other events. The highlight of the week is the “hope dinner” on Friday, where students, faculty, staff, and community members gather together to share food, fellowship, and hope for the future. Other highlights of our chapter including bringing Danny Richter to Juniata to visit class and give a standing-room-only talk to over 100 attendees and working with the administration to have Juniata College endorse the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. Another key activity of the chapter is attending CCL conferences and participating in the lobbying on the Hill. We are typically able to bring eight students or more to the November conferences.
What keeps you motivated to do this work?
CCL conferences and the other support that CCL provides is very important in maintaining motivation. The other sources of motivation are the people—our 11-year-old daughter is willing to lobby in D.C. every year (she’s lobbied seven times in D.C. already!), and the students who take time out of their hectic schedules to invest their energy in the events. It helps tremendously to have each other as full supportive partners in this work.
Got a suggestion for our Volunteer Spotlight series? Send your suggestions to Flannery Winchester at flannery @ citizensclimatelobby.org.
Kendall Kosek is a communications intern with Citizens’ Climate Lobby.