Meet Janelle Richards, Our First Environmentalist in Residence!

May 31, 2018 | Diana L.

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From June 4 to August 11, Toronto Public Library welcomes Janelle Richards, our first Environmentalist in Residence (EnvIR) presented as part of the Our Fragile Planet program series

Janelle Richards, TPL Environmentalist in Residence

Janelle has over seven years of professional experience as a certified teacher and environmental educator in the non-profit sector. Her educational background in wildlife biology has allowed her to develop, lead and deliver park engagement programs and outdoor education workshops for participants of various ages and backgrounds.

Janelle identifying a plant in a school garden

"Growing up, I was enamoured with the natural world but I would soon realize that the colour of my skin often made me stand out in many of the environmental circles I belonged to, causing me to question my passion. Because of this, I recognize that environmentalism may look different depending on the target audience." - Janelle Richards

As the Education Lead at Green Change, a satellite of the Jane/Finch Community Centre, Janelle's understanding in the importance of human connections combined with her ability to adapt programs and messaging to diverse audiences, particularly in low-income, underserved and racialized communities, has changed people's behaviours around health and sustainability.

Janelle's involvement with Park People in seniors environmental programming and as a speaker at their 8th Annual Park Summit, adds to her extensive community engagement experience and demonstrates her strength in being a community activator and mobilizer.

Janelle teaching outside during a winter family program

Janelle's proposed programs are a direct fit for each branch's community. Her "GIYGrow It Yourself" workshop for the Albion Branch builds on the Live Green Toronto Rethink Food initiative and ties into the importance of food security. Her "Wild Toronto Unseen" program for the Scarborough Civic Centre Branch looks at local wildlife, which ties into the branch's proximity to the Rouge Valley.

The Environmentalist in Residence (EnvIR) program supports the Our Fragile Planet program series and will serve as an industry expert in the area of conservation and sustainability.

Janelle will lead free, engaging programs, hands-on workshops and offer community consultations at two branches:

If you're as excited as we are about this new residency, check out this quick Q&A I had with her:

What interested you about TPL's Environmentalist in Residence position and what you are looking most forward to during your residency?

I think libraries are a unique place for lifelong learning. They hold so much knowledge and provide so many opportunities! I was interested in the EnvIR position because, as an educator, making knowledge about our environment accessible to as many different people as possible is so exciting. There are a lot of misconceptions, myths and knowledge gaps when it comes to learning about the environment in urban settings and I'm happy to do what I can to help!

The EnvIR program was developed with indigenous communities and relationships in mind. What steps would you take to ensure that your work honours and respects the role of local indigenous groups and communities as stewards of this land and its waters?

I do not identify as indigenous to this land and because of this, I'm excited to be collaborating with and gaining knowledge from members of the local indigenous communities to ensure that all of our programming is developed with respectful and accurate knowledge sharing in mind as well as respectful land use.

What area of the environment are you most passionate about and why?

Ecosystems fascinate me. There are so many moving parts, positive and negative interactions between plants, animals, the land, water and air, and they are all so intricately balanced. How humans interact within those ecosystems adds a whole different layer! When we are unaware of our space in ecosystems, a lot of harm can be done, but once we become more aware of our place, a lot of good can be done too.

What is the environmental issue that you would like to tackle as the Environmentalist in Residence?

As EnvIR, I want to make sure that I do what I can to manage waste and increase biodiversity. They seem huge and unrelated but, as a society, we produce an insane amount of waste, (and) much of it is plastic waste that will never break down. That waste takes up space and pollution from that waste finds its way into important habitats, having a major impact on biodiversity. Biodiversity, which is the different forms of life in an area, can also be impacted by a number of other factors but most of them stem from harmful human practices. Because of this, not only will I directly inform people about these issues, but I think it's vital to model practical ways for people to be thinking about their impact every day.

What do you enjoy the most about working so closely with the environment?

I always love a good walk through a natural area. There is always something new and different. Even experts are always learning and discovering something new! The environment has so much to show us and teach us if we just slow down long enough to look and listen.  

What inspires the environmental work that you do? 

The environment has so much to giveknowledge, health, shelter, good food, fresh water. Unfortunately, not everyone has equal access to these things, and sometimes people and organizations with the most access are doing things in the environment that impact people with the least access. This inspires the environmental work that I do. My hope is that, through my work, not only will I be able to share knowledge and break barriers for people who have been historically shut out of natural spaces (deliberately or not), but that I'll also be able to inspire everyone who participates to approach environmental topics from a point of empathy towards people and the environment itself.

Can you tell us about your upcoming projects?

I'm excited to dive into some exciting and meaningful lectures and workshops. I will ensure my topics relate to what people in our city want to know more about. Topics like urban farming, city wildlife, green energy and climate change 101 are just some of the things we'll be talking about.

Right now I'm finishing up a program called Fields to Parks, engaging schools in the Jane and Finch area in workshops to get them thinking of ways to improve their local park. This summer I'll be working with community leaders across the north-west of the city to make a toolkit that will be used to help inform how to help community engagement in local natural spaces.


Thank you, Janelle!

Don't pass up this exciting opportunity to meet Janelle, our first Environmentalist in Residence! Check back in June 2018 for more details. 

Janelle posing with Costa Rica beetles

This residency is fully funded by the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation, as part of the Our Fragile Planet program series.

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