As a “Save Our Cypress” intern over these past months I have worked to educate the public on the dangerous of using cypress mulch, push for more sustainable mulch alternatives, and hold corporations accountable for their destruction of the Gulf Coast. Through all of this, I have gained invaluable knowledge about the Gulf Coast, confidence in grassroots organizing, and stronger people skills.Starting out I was a little shy about talking to complete strangers about environmental issues, but I set my fears aside and dove right in and I couldn’t be happier that I did! I spent the bulk of the semester interacting with people, and whether it was reaching out to rally them for an event or tabling at garden shows around the city with the Mulch Matters Kit, I built my public speaking skills and confidence. The Mulch Matters Kit contains samples of sustainable mulches and the truth behind the dangers of cypress mulch. Along with my outreach, garden clubs, teachers, or Girl Scout Troop leaders across the Gulf Coast can use the kit to educate their communities as well. So far, we have had great success with these kits and people have been passing them on to their friends’ organizations, building a strong network of people united for a healthy Gulf.While I had been to a few events with the GRN prior to being an intern, I had never organized an event from the ground up. Collectively, the Cypress team worked on rallying people nationwide for a “Cypress Day of Action” that took place in early December to show big corporations like Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, and Home Depot that communities do care about protecting the Gulf, and to put pressure on them to stop selling cypress mulch altogether. We had a special event in Atlanta at the Home Depot corporate headquarters. I specifically focused on rallying student groups at different universities in Atlanta. It was hard, and at first I felt discouraged, but I kept my head up and continued calling and calling for weeks. Although only a few student groups responded, it was enough to make the day a great success . Persistence really pays off.I also organized an event here in New Orleans at a Home Depot in Mid-City. As this was my first event to organize solo, I was a little anxious, but excited at the same time. The event ended up being a hit-over 25 people came out in the rain to show their support for the Gulf (double what I had expected). We were able to reach out to many people in the community to ask them to help hold Home Depot accountable for continuing to sell cypress mulch when the clear-cutting of cypress forests for mulch is damaging our natural storm defenses, wildlife habitats, and water filtration systems. We had a great response from the public that day, and I was very pleased to see everyone coming out to show their support. It turned out to be a really fun day!Overall, I learned more than I had ever expected to during my semester at GRN. I had such an amazing time I am going to continue my work here as an intern through next semester as well. The work environment here at GRN is very positive and everyone is passionate about the conservation and restoration of the Gulf Coast. Working with such amazing people for such an important cause has been the highlight of my semester, and I look forward to doing it all over again next semester.Jen Pipitone is a Senior at Loyola University studying Sociology.

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