May 2004 
Volume 03, Issue 1 
Around Boeing


An account from Kansas' largest Earth Day party, sponsored by Boeing


Sue Redington visits a worm adoption station at Earth Day Kansas 2004Had you been at the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kan., on April 22, you could have adopted a worm, complete with adoption papers and already "trained" to make compost. Or constructed a water molecule out of gumdrops and toothpicks. Or examined the "micro world" through a microscope. You could have commemorated Earth Day with about 13,000 other guests of Boeing Wichita.

Our annual Earth Day Kansas, begun in 1997 in response to a community survey, has grown into the largest Earth Day observation in the state of Kansas. The event is managed and staffed by Boeing employees, with hands-on activities provided by government, civic, education and business groups, including 10 Boeing organizations and clubs.

The public wanted its corporate neighbors to care about the environment, K-12 education, and getting their employees involved in the community. For eight years, we've been doing it all at Earth Day Kansas.

I've been working on this event since its inception. Every year is different, and every year is better. Over the years the event has covered groundwater pollution, air pollution, light pollution, and sound pollution (by the way, two grade-schoolers can outscream a jet engine). We've had art contests and recycling games, and seen white tiger cubs. Two things have stayed constant, though: the energy of our young guests, and the enthusiasm of our Boeing planners and volunteers.

Our first Earth Day Kansas attracted 4,000 students, teachers and interested adults to the city's downtown convention center. Last month we hosted 13,000, representing classrooms from more than 170 schools in communities surrounding Wichita, plus one school in Newkirk, Okla.

Three years ago we moved to the Sedgwick County Zoo. There, our exhibitors can spread out, the animals make for a great attraction, and there's plenty of space for youngsters to run off excess energy.

It takes six months for a cross-functional core team of Boeing employees to plan Earth Day Kansas. To maintain continuity from year to year, some core team members stay on for a few years, rotate into other jobs and train new members to take over the next year.

"We make improvements every year," said Sue Redington, 2004 Earth Day Kansas coordinator. Redington, a business and planning analyst with Wichita Shared Services, led a team of 15 who collectively organized more than 250 Boeing employees to help with teacher registration, parking, lost kids and exhibitor relief.

The day is carefully monitored by the core team. Problems are documented, as are "do better" suggestions from attendees and Boeing volunteers. That information, along with feedback from exhibitors and classrooms, is reviewed carefully and applied to the next year's planning.

"Maintaining educational value always seems to be an issue, especially for the older children," Redington said. "The challenge with them is to fire up their imaginations and engage them in carrying environmental practices back to the classroom."

To do that, we established "Camp Re-Use-It" this year. This "fair within the fair" was for fourth and fifth graders only. In the camp, Boeing expos demonstrated how kids can affect how much of the trash they generate goes to the landfill. The students left with a mission: to create a litterless lunch. Next year, we'll see how well they do and how well they can organize their schools to achieve their goal.

At first it may seem our only reward from the day is tired feet. But then the "Dear Boeing" letters start arriving. Almost all of them say, "Thanks for inviting us to Earth Day Kansas." Some relate what they learned: "how water gets dirty," "pollution hurts fish," "I'm the same size as an eagle!"

And once in a while there is the best compliment of all: "You're the coolest people in Wichita." That's a nice thing to hear from your neighbors.

Cathy Klusman is a member of the Boeing Communications and Public Affairs office in Wichita, Kan. She has participated in Earth Day Kansas--a Boeing-sponsored event in this community--for eight years and was on the team that conceived the idea for the event.


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