Hala Elbarmil; Outreach Specialist; Fairfax County Park Authority
The National Wildlife Federation EcoLeaders Career Center is celebrating the motivating stories and career accomplishments of young professionals making their names (and a difference) in the sustainability movement. NWF EcoLeaders staff has interviewed this group of change-makers and rising stars that we call “The EcoLeaders Top 50 Inspirations.”
Program Assistant and Substitute Teacher
Fairfax County Park Authority and Fairfax County Public Schools
David Corsar: So, to start out, looking back at your experience with NWF, how did participation in the EcoLeaders program and becoming a certified EcoLeader help you plan your career path?
Hala Elbarmil: I formerly worked at the National Wildlife Federation at the IT Helpdesk as a work study position. After the time was completed, I wanted to pursue the environmental field for my career. I am passionate about wildlife and the environment, so I began researching how to get involved. I looked into the NWF EcoLeaders, and thought it looked great, and got involved in the Green Patriots group at George Mason University. Courtney Cochran told me about the group, and put me in contact with the president of the group, at the time. Being able to connect with other EcoLeaders on campus at Mason was a great experience. I met amazing people, created projects, expanded my knowledge, became a certified EcoLeader and EcoLeader Ambassador, and received certificate in Permaculture Design. This experience has broadened my opportunities, such as working for Clean Fairfax as the Communication Coordinator, and then transferring to work at the Fairfax County Farmers Markets as the Program Assistant.
DC: What are you up to these days? Where are you working, and why did you choose to work there?
HE: Right now, I’m working at the Fairfax County Farmers Markets through a program that exists through Fairfax County Parks Authority. I do marketing, programming, volunteer outreach, and more. Additionally, I am a Substitute Teacher at Fairfax County Public Schools. Furthermore, I am working on garden projects at schools. For example, at Pulley Career Center, which is a technical school and career center for students with disabilities to receive career skills through hands-on training after high school. One day, I saw that their greenhouse was not functioning, and I thought, “What’s going on?” So, I talked to some teachers that were interested, we talked the principal, and now they’re having their horticulture/permaculture program there. The students go to job sites each week to two local nurseries.
DC: That’s awesome!
HE: Thank you. Sometimes it’s hard, just because we’re starting the program over. But students have accomplished a lot last year with their first plant sale.
DC: What would you say is your personal mission for sustainability? Where do you see yourself fitting into the big puzzle of sustainability?
HE: Recently, I’ve been involved with permaculture. I’m a really big permaculture freak – I think it’s really neat and think about it all the time, so I try to bring those practices into my life. Practicing that and then educating people about it, just getting more and more involved. I started gardening, and then now I’m raising chickens, and I’m planning to add a pond and attracting more pollinators, and it’s just changed my life. Right now, I'm also raising money to provide a scholarship to help more people learn about permaculture.
DC: What originally motivated you to begin on this path?
HE: I’ve always been interested sustainability, but what really started me thinking about doing this for a career was when I started working for the National Wildlife Federation.
DC: Great! Who are your primary “influencers” or inspirations in the sustainability movement?
HE: My permaculture instructor, Wayne Weiseman. He’s really opened the world to me; now I look at the world in a different way, through a different lens. I see how through policy and education and even social life, how environmental issues are viewed, and what we can do to change it.
Also, Justin Rhodes – he runs Abundant Permaculture and had a great video called Permaculture Chickens. I’ve never met him, but I really enjoy his YouTube videos and learning from him about how to make a difference.
My former supervisor, Jen Cole, from Clean Fairfax; she encouraged me to take the permaculture class and taught me about sustainability. Jen has been there for me, and has been a great mentor.
My mother passed away in August 2015. I miss gardening with her, and watch her make preserves and cheese. Gardening is one of the activities we enjoyed doing together. She was happy that I took a permaculture course and implemented what I learned into my life. I am continuing to practice permaculture, and spreading knowledge and power to others.
DC: Have you had any mentors or career coaches assist you in mapping out your own personal career path?
HE: Yeah. Jen Cole, my former supervisor from Clean Fairfax, Wayne Weiseman, and the GMU Career Services. My major was in Communication, and they helped me figure out how to use my major in the sustainability or environmental field.
DC: How would you describe or characterize a successful mentorship relationship?
HE: Whenever I had a question, I can go up to them and ask. For example, the GMU Career Center – I was a regular there. Even after I graduated, I still went there for assistance.
My former supervisor from Clean Fairfax is always there for me. She still provides feedback for my resume, serves as a reference, sends me job information, give me tips about interviews and job searches.
DC: Do you plan to seek out opportunities to act as a mentee again or perhaps a mentor yourself?
HE: Yeah, of course. I appreciate people that helped me when I reached out them. They took the time to look over my resume and provide advice and feedback. I would love to return that in any sort of way to help other people as well.
DC: What would you recommend to students who want to make a difference for sustainability in general or in permaculture?