Volunteer Spotlight: Leila Z. Hadj-Chikh
By Flannery Winchester
At 42, Leila Z. Hadj-Chikh spends her days as the Software Engineering Lead at Dunbar Security Solutions. When she’s on her own time, she shifts into high gear making the world a better place. She volunteers at the National Aquarium, working in the Rainforest Exhibit, the Marine Mammals Program, the Animal Rescue Team, and the Aquarium Conservation Team. She also serves as the Outreach Coordinator for CCL’s Baltimore chapter. CCL’s June conference this year gave her group lots of ideas for growing their membership, which they are working on now.
Today, she’s telling us a little more about her history with CCL and the creative resources she uses to connect with her community.
How did you first get connected with CCL?
I found out about CCL through VolunteerMatch.org, and I joined in November 2016, following the presidential election.
What did you like about CCL?
I love that it’s nonpartisan and steers away from divisive rhetoric. I was attracted to CCL in particular because it’s entirely focused on climate change, which I regard as the most serious challenge facing the world today.
What resources do you use for outreach?
I created a series of climate postcards to use at tabling events. Some are humorous, like this Game of Thrones themed card, and others are focused on specific issues like ocean acidification, sea-level rise, or warming temperatures. On the reverse side of the postcards, people can state why climate change concerns them and express their support for Carbon Fee and Dividend. I also developed some information sheets (see examples here and here) to pair with the postcards to educate people about the topics covered. One thing we didn’t anticipate was that people liked the postcards a little too much; they were tempted to make off with them rather than fill them out and give them back to us! To address this problem, we set up a toy mailbox to encourage people to fill out and “mail” their postcards on the spot.
And while parents are writing to Congress at a tabling event, we have a fun way to occupy the kids: an activity called “Mascot Mashup.” Kids use paper cutouts of elephants and donkeys to create a bipartisan mascot to inspire Congress to work together on climate solutions. The children’s creations are meant to remind Members of Congress that the next generation is depending on them to act responsibly.
I followed Climate Central’s instructions to create 3D visualizations of sea-level rise, which I brought to my lobby meetings. I was able to show that the house where I live will one day be underwater if we don’t do something to curb carbon emissions. I’ve also been making use of Climate Central’s Surging Seas Risk Finder, which provides risk reports for coastal communities. The tool generates charts that you can download. Both of these resources are useful for lobby meetings and tabling events, to show how climate change could affect the places people care about.
What other types of environmental outreach have you done beyond CCL?
Although I now do software development, I was trained as a biologist and have a PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Princeton University. I got a chance to apply my knowledge in both areas during Conservation X Labs’ Make for the Planet competition at the Smithsonian’s Earth Optimism Summit. My team, The TerraMedics, was one of four finalists selected to give a Pitch for the Planet, which you can see here. It was a great experience, and it was inspiring to see so many creative solutions to global conservation challenges. It gives me hope that we can solve these problems if we put our minds to it.
What keeps you motivated to do this work?
The problem isn’t going away, so neither am I.
Got a suggestion for our Volunteer Spotlight series? Send the name, chapter and some brief info about the volunteer to Flannery Winchester at flannery @ citizensclimatelobby.org.