By: Mallory Meston, WMEAC’s Lakeshore Fellow
In a few years, Ludington environmental activist Julia Chambers’s retirement will be a reality. Chambers is the co-founder and president of the grassroots environmental education group A Few Friends for the Environment of the World (AFFEW).
AFFEW is an all-volunteer grassroots organization with a mission to nurture a healthy planet for all by creating experiences that show people their connection to the environment, engage the next generations, educate people on what they can do, and inspire everyone to take action.
“I co-founded AFFEW in 1990, and it is still going,” Chambers said. “I have been the president for about 28 of those years, and I am still actively involved in planning, organizing, and implementing various programs.”
Chambers has worked and volunteered in West Michigan for over 30 years.
“I was the naturalist at the Ludington State park for 3 years, between 1990-1993, and I managed the Great Lakes Visitor Center during those years,” Chambers said. “I also co-founded the Green (environmental) Team in 2012 at the People’s Church in Ludington, Unitarian Universalist.”
Chambers is also a born educator.
“I taught art and elementary education in Manistee for 26 years. Throughout those years, I always had a student-led environmental group to help kids get involved with lots of service projects within the community,” Chambers explained. “I loved teaching, so I was always trying to share my passion and knowledge with others.”
AFFEW was established by Julia Chambers and Kate Love, in 1990, due to their concerns about the increase in cancer in Mason County.
“Kate and I decided to take action, and within two weeks we were holding a meeting to start an environmental education group for the community,” Chambers explained.
Over the years AFFEW has held workshops, balanced forums for the community, numerous presentations on environmental concerns, and Earth Day celebrations.
“Our Earth Day Celebration is always a highlight of mine. I love working with kids so the Youth Summer program is another favorite of mine because I love seeing kids love nature and get excited about it,” Chambers said. “I also get very excited about networking with citizens, and experts, and sharing info.”
AFFEW has also worked alongside many local businesses, agencies, schools, and citizens in projects such as dune grass planting, Christmas tree, and battery recycling, cleaning Ludington beaches, eradication of invasive species, river monitoring, and household hazardous waste collection day.
“I was also awarded 2nd place in the National Cox Conserves Adult Hero Award with prize money of $15,000 for AFFEW,” Chambers said. “Our group has gained so much respect in our community. From the beginning we have worked with local agencies, businesses, and government to create solutions, not to point fingers.”
Chambers is proud of the work she has accomplished and plans on being involved with AFFEW for as long as she can.
“The AFFEW board is working on a succession plan for me to leave in 2 or so years, but I intend on always being involved, whether in programming or networking for as long as I can,” Chambers said.
After retiring, Chambers is looking forward to having a bit more free time.
“I am looking forward to retirement. I plan to travel, spend time with my family and friends, create mosaics, garden, and continue my sea turtle work.” Chambers said. “But, I still plan on volunteering, especially with kids.”
Writer Mallory Meston has a unique connection with Chambers, as they first met on a Honduras mission trip through the Muskegon Rotary several years ago. And Tanya Cabala, WMEAC’s lakeshore outreach coordinator, has had the opportunity, in her previous environmental positions, to work with Chambers on sand dune protection and other issues dating back to AFFEW’s founding!