YARMOUTH — On a gray and misty Friday morning, students at Harrison Middle school donned green clothing and sandwich board signs to promote Green Streets Day, a day to travel by biking, walking, carpooling or taking public transportation.
Last Friday marked the first anniversary of the students’ participation in the earth-friendly transportation movement.
Portland Green Streets is a grass-roots initiative based on a program that started in Cambridge, Mass. It encourages alternative travel one day a month, and participants are encouraged to wear green clothing, get around in a green way and sign up to receive discounts and special offers from local businesses.
So far, Harrison Middle School is the only school in greater Portland to participate in the movement, said Sarah Cushman, organizer of the Portland Green Streets program. She said the students have the enthusiasm and motivation to keep the program strong. Out of approximately 450 students at the school, 236 participated in Green Streets Day by biking, walking, taking the bus or carpooling to school.
“This program started in the schools, and has grown to encompass businesses and more,” Cushman said. “It takes motivation, but is easy to do and fun.”
She said the thought of alternative transportation may prove to be a
hurdle for some people, but others may get hooked after the first time.
“Our hope is that people realize how easy it is,” Cushman said. “Then, it may become easier to talk to the neighbor about sharing a ride, or easier to travel to work on a bike
for the first time. It may translate into a pattern.”
She said Green Streets Day doesn’t have to be about travel; it can be about working from home one day a month. The program is for everyone, not just people communing to work. It is for retired people, stay-at-home parents, teens, and middle school students.
Merry Kahn, adviser to the school’s environmental group, the eTeam, said participation dropped a little throughout the winter, but the students have remained excited about promoting and encouraging others to travel in a green way.
“Being the first-year anniversary, it is a good opportunity to boost awareness of the program to surrounding communities,” she said. “Hopefully more schools in the area will join the effort.”
Kahn said Cushman has been a tireless, positive force behind the Green Streets program.
“She is a great inspiration to the students here,” she said.
Eighth-grader Abby Vogel said she was happy to see the program grow over the past year.
“If we do a small part, and someone else does a small part, all the little parts will equal a big change,” Vogel said. “Every action makes a difference.”
Libby Thompson, another eighth-grader, said she wants to continue the program at the high school.
“This is really important,” Thompson said.
The anniversary drew the attention of state Rep. Melissa Walsh Innes, who is also chairwoman of the Yarmouth Energy Savers Committee. Innes helped to stamp green footprints on the hands of participating students and teachers. She said the initiative is a great idea and she was happy to be a part of it.
Even Ted Koffman, executive director of Maine Audubon and a former state representative, came to the event, too.
“Teaching children the importance of conservation and environmental activism is so important,” Koffman said. “It doesn’t require a great a sacrifice to make little changes.”
He said children of this generation are more aware of the future of the planet and understand that they need to do something about the environmental problems.
“They are great activists,” he said. “They understand that by making small changes, they can make a big difference.”
Cushman said as a reward for helping to reduce pollution and improve the environment, Green Streets Portland offers discounts and raffles from area businesses.
Incentives include free coffee at Clayton’s restaurant in Yarmouth and Panera Bread in South Portland, 10 percent off items at Fetch! in Portland, half off a Maine Audubon membership or 20 percent off any Nature Store purchase in Falmouth. Other offers are available, too, from businesses including Rosemont Market and Bakery, Slainte, Portland Dog Wash, Longfellow Books and Portland Photo Works.
“This is a simple notion,” Cushman said. “It is not hard to organize and it is a lot of fun.”
To sign up or to see participating businesses, visit portlandgreenstreets.org.
Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext 110 or firstname.lastname@example.org.