Story by Erik Lindblad, 2014
It is 6am on Saturday morning; Lauren and Patrick Belmonte are on the move. They are heading to the local health club where Lauren teaches a fitness class. Lauren and Patrick are as passionate about healthy living as they are the environment, finding windows of opportunities in their busy lives to exercise and prepare healthy meals each day. This could be biking to their office, a run, surf or Lauren teaching & taking classes at the local fitness club.
Alarmed by the fact that our environment was at a tipping point, and our society wasn't making the connection that our planet's health is directly affecting our human health, this couple founded the organization to make a direct impact within their community and beyond. "This is about connecting kids and people to the planet and showing them how it is affecting human health NOW. We are trying to teach the next generation to not make the same mistakes we have. Disease rates are up, food quality down, super storms are pulverizing our homes: this is about our health as a society, our kids and their kids. We can do better, we must," stated Patrick in a serious tone.
"I was inspired in the 5th grade- why can't others be as well? And if the schools aren't set up for it, let's bring it to them", Lauren stated about her initial motivations. "Teach kids their connections to the environment so that they can make a difference, and they will grow up making better choices and having respect for their natural resources and compassion for their neighbors and community."
The Belmontes started the organization with a few hundred dollars of their own, a paperback book on filing to be a 501c3, and supplies picked from the trash. Lauren's science background and Patrick's business experience make them a strong team to tackle this project. But with no financial jump-start they knew they needed to prove the value of the work. They simply began testing concepts in classrooms, never thinking that it would become something that has inspired over 8,500 students in 22 communities and touched 50,000+ individuals.
Currently CiS is impacting roughly 20 communities in the Boston area. However they feel they have something that could work nationwide. CiS has designed the lessons to work for every student and every community. Patrick & Lauren describe a "dream" plan to load up their trailer with supplies and drive across the country making stops along the way teaching lessons just to prove it.
They have chosen a path of impact and passion over financial gain- an emerging trend among young entrepreneurs. Lauren Belmonte, an environmental scientist, spends her days managing environmental compliance and sustainability for the Massachusetts Military Division. This is the job that allows her and her husband Patrick to 'pay the bills' and push their life’s mission forward. Lauren and Patrick are the founders of Change is Simple, Inc. (CiS), an environmental education non-profit. The organization came to life 5 years ago, shortly after they were married.
Lauren followed a life of environmental stewardship after being inspired in the 5th grade by a teacher who 'got it.' She attended Merrimack College to receive her degree in Environmental Science. She continued her work and studies thereafter soon realizing that the majority of people were completely unaware of how their lifestyle affected the environment and how the environment affected our health. Lauren & Patrick spent a lot of time talking about ways to change this attitude.
The couple ran a pilot lesson on a hot June day in 2010 for seventy 4th graders and it was a huge success. The excitement from the kids and teachers was apparent. Patrick & Lauren felt a calling to keep working and developing new concepts to educate more students. For the next two years the couple used vacation days to teach occasional lessons at schools throughout the region. In 2012, Patrick made a difficult decision to leave his job as the marketing director for a communications company. He knew that if CiS was to flourish, one of them needed to commit and although he is still an unpaid COO, he does not regret that decision. "Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Good things will come if you lead with passion", he said in a recent interview.
In 2012, two remarkable interns joined the Change is Simple team- Hannah Lawson & Kelly Driscoll. Both offered incredible expertise and when CiS received the Cummings Foundation grant in June of 2013, Ms. Lawson and Ms. Driscoll were hired as the first staff members. Both have been instrumental in the development and growth of the organization. Internships are a vital part of the CiS model. The organization works with Endicott College, Gordon College, Salem State University and Northeastern University.
The Change is Simple education model was established on the values that its Founders live by: use resources in a way that does not undermine future generations from using those same resources; live simply; be active in your community; let your passion drive you; learn from and empower others.
The focus of each lesson is built on the following principles:
- inspire passion for our natural world through use of memorable interactive learning tools
- integrate math, ELA, STEM curriculum objectives into lessons,
- teach students their daily connections to the environment and how the environment impacts their health,
- and give students a way of making changes that impact the environment and empower them to teach others.
During each lesson students are engaged with hands-on activities and games that make them realize the impact they can have on the environment every day. Their excitement goes beyond the classroom; they are empowered to share the lessons with peers and family members through ongoing activities.
Change is Simple has been recognized by former Governor Patrick, who participated in their program in 2012, calling it "innovative with a profoundly important message".
In 2013 The Cummings Foundation awarded Change is Simple a $100,000 grant that funded the implementation of Change is Simple curriculum within the 3rd, 4th & 5th grades at all public schools in Beverly and Woburn for the 2013/2014 & 2014/2015 school years.
In May of 2014 Change is Simple received the Massachusetts Secretary's Award for Excellence in Environmental Education for the work within Beverly & Woburn. This award was presented at the MA State House by Rick Sullivan, Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs. Thank you to Cummings Foundation for making this possible!
Change is Simple is thankful to have been supported by the following businesses and foundations: Danversbank Foundation, Forest Foundation, New England Biolabs, Cell Signaling, Marblehead Bank, Beverly Bank, United Technologies, Ebsco Publishing, Meridian Associates, Sensitech.