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Alumni Essay: Larry Gibson and the Battle for the Mountains of West Virginia

Grace Lufty, a former Homestead School student

Grace Lutfy was part of the first Homestead class to experience Grades 4, 5, and 6 when we started expanding this school to the upper elementary about eight years ago.

After finishing Delaware Valley High School with a long list of accomplishments and college acceptances to Marist, Ithaca, Quinnipiac, and Penn State for starters, she is now finishing her final semester at Penn State University studying BioRenewable Systems with focus on Agriculture Systems Management.

The following is a piece she shared with us recently. She used a Homestead elementary experience as the basis for her college essays and for a summer job application with an environmental center. We are honored that Grace keeps in touch with us!

Essay By Grace Lutfy

“If you could just close your eyes and think that this once was green, singing with life, full of happiness.” He choked on his words fighting to hold the tears back. “This right here used to be mountains as far as the eye could see.”

Members of the Green Power Alliance (GPA), my grassroots environmental club founded by my elementary school teacher, myself, and a handful of classmates, convinced our parents that we needed to make a trip to West Virginia. We wanted to see firsthand the scene of mountaintop removal practices. GPA and our volunteer parents sped down I-81 in a caravan filled with 10-year-old kids with a thirst for adventure, and I couldn’t wait to arrive.

We visited our teacher’s dear friend, Larry Gibson, a long-time environmental activist. After being away from West Virginia for many years, he returned to Kayford Mountain in 1986 and discovered a landscape that was beginning to change beyond recognition.

Image Credit: Courtesy EcoWatch

The landscape, once covered with verdant mountain ridges, was replaced with desolate stretches of land where mining companies had dynamited the mountaintops to expose seams of coal within. How could someone consciously do this? Do people not understand that once you blow up a mountain it will never come back? The questions echoed in my mind.

Last year, I looked at the reluctant faces of the DVHS Environmental Club. I reminded myself that part of persuading is in not allowing oneself to be dissuaded.

“This is a great opportunity! PEEC (Pocono Education and Environmental Center) is a local education center that is not used as readily as it should by our high school.”

They had never been there; they didn’t get it.

“We will actually see how a greenhouse works, practice trail management, and explore a life-size beaver den. Let’s get out of this classroom and witness this.”

The experience was impactful. Everyone in the club gained a deeper awareness and were inspired and willing to learn about more opportunities that could link PEEC and the DVHS Environmental Club. The excitement spread and our club grew by fifty percent in the next month. We are currently working on a fundraising project for PEEC.

After experiences like those in West Virginia and with PEEC, I realize I am passionate about and dedicated to activism in conjunction with experiential learning. I find a deep importance in making an impact and change for the better. I believe everyone was placed on this earth with an opportunity to change things for the better. It is those who chose to make a difference who will thrive and make that positive change. I plan to make a positive impact on this planet.

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