Located off 6 Mile Road in Racine, Wisconsin, lies a unique destination. It is home to the Racine Dominican Sisters’ Ecology Center for Justice. The “Eco-J Center,” as it is called by those who know it as home, is a center for education, conservation, and sustainability. These values sprout from the 8 Rs, which are the roots of this great foundation: Reuse, Reduce, Recycle, Reverence, Respect, Responsibility, Rethink, and Repair. Not only do they instill in those who visit the awareness of personal responsibility but also compel them to action.
Throughout the year, the Eco-J Center hosts a variety of events and summer camps to bring awareness to these 8 Rs. During the year students from a plethora of schools in the area visit the Ecology Center to learn of its unique position in our community. Groups as large as 90 students have traversed the serene landscape, listening, learning and absorbing the unique way of life the sisters sustain. In the summer, however, the Eco-J Center is home to youthful and energetic children attending the various camps offered. Camps go week-by-week in accordance with age, hosting groups from the ages of 6-10 year olds, as well as 11-14 year olds. Youth volunteers also join in the summer activities at the Eco-J Center through summer work programs. These young adults ranging from the ages of 13-18 participate in the upkeep and growth of the center while living and learning by the 8 Rs.
The younger campers partake in many activities throughout their week including crafts, chores, and caring for the diverse animal population. The crafts created scale with the age of the group attending. Some crafts for the older groups include creating pouches and necklaces from alpaca fur. The campers venture through the process of carding and felting the hair from the alpacas, which live on the farm, to create their projects. One veteran camper gleefully exclaimed, during the first week of camp, how many of her friends and family comment on her alpaca fur necklace. “Lots of my family and friends ask me what it is and where I got it” Clara said. This allows her to begin an exciting conversation about how she was able to make this jewelry all by herself from the fur of an alpaca at the Eco-Justice Center.
During the first of this summer’s three camps, the older campers also indulged in the opportunity to create items such as seed starters, learned how to use clay from the Earth to create pottery, and even created water containers by carving out gourds. Sister Janet, the head of the center, explained how important gourds were back before glass and plastic bottles. “Gourds were used for a variety of tasks including transporting water, drinking liquids, as well as for soup bowls. The campers learn how simple things in nature can be used for many tasks.”
Not only do the students gain knowledge of nature and values from the 8 Rs, the Eco-J Center provides a healthy and exciting environment for children of all ages to grow in friendship with other campers. Some of the camps for older kids host participants who have been in the program since its birth. After three or more years, campers really get to know each other, and friendships grow beyond the center. The veterans commented how they enjoy returning every year, always expecting a handful of the same kids, but also looking forward to meeting new people and growing together. As one camp assistant, Nancy, said: “I love coming to help out each year, not only to assist the sisters but to see the growth of the campers and the magical experiences they encounter.”
During the camp the children are encouraged to learn and appreciate the 8 Rs. Being effective at recycling and reducing waste are key rules, however the kids are challenged to go beyond just the physical tasks and really keep in mind the attitude and responsibilities they hold for the future of their Earth. Sister Janet shared, “These young campers play a critical role in the cycle of this Earth; we try to teach them how each of us has our own little spot on this Earth and how important it is to do our part.” A prime example of this is depicted through one veteran camper, Nolan, who boasted, “I’ve been using this same cup for the past 5 years of camp!”
Another one of the veteran campers during the last week of June commented on how she really took these camps to heart and how she enjoyed hearing the truth for once about how to take care of the environment. “I enjoy these camps because I learn what’s really going on to my Earth and how I can learn to take care of it. We don’t learn this stuff at school, and the news isn’t always the best place to find the perspective the sisters share with us here,” Aysia said.
So whether it be Sun-day, Water-day, or Soil-day, the Eco-Justice Center is always open for children, youth, and even adults to come learn about the 8 Rs and grow closer to nature themselves and those around them through community, contemplation and sustainability.