Franciscans’ One Planet Fund aims to grow respect for earth, one another

Every year, the tennis courts at Royalton High School flood with water that runs off the pavement and erodes the side of the hill.

When agriculture teacher Robert Skwira heard about a new grant opportunity being offered by the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls called the One Planet Fund, an idea for collecting that rainwater and creating a drainage system came to mind.

Agriculture teacher Robert Skwira talks to members of the Y.E.S. Club — Youth Energy Summit — at Royalton High School about the water conservation project that was funded by the Franciscan Sisters’ One Planet Fund. From left are: Robert Skwira, Bryson Brezinka, Braydon Gibbs, Jackson Psyck, Riley Lutz and Brianna Lenz. (Photo by Dianne Towalski)

As Royalton’s director of the Y.E.S. Club — Youth Energy Summit — Skwira is responsible for leading a group of 60 students dedicated to helping improve the school and community.

He pitched the idea of applying for the grant to the students and, together, they developed it into a project. Their plan is to dig a trench with a basin at the bottom to collect the water, which they will use to water fruit trees and other vegetation on the school grounds, and prevent further erosion.

“My goal is that students will see how important it is to be a good steward of the land that God has entrusted to us while we reconstruct the water runoff around the tennis courts,” Skwira said.

In the spirit of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si,’” the One Planet Fund is an inspired idea of the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls to address the growing concerns of climate emergency. This initiative, which accepted its first round of applications last fall, supports projects that promote respect for the earth and bring awareness to the urgent need to protect the environment.

“As a member of the Franciscan way of life, I feel connected to the earth,” said Franciscan Sister Carolyn Law, one of the assistant ministers of the community and a member of the One Planet committee.

“Many of us sisters are from rural areas and have grown up close to nature and to the earth, its creatures and its people, all who are very near and dear to us,” she said. “We have a great concern for the direction of the world. We are in an emergency, and we want to do both big things and little things to continue to care for the earth and all those in it. Pope Francis says we are running out of time, and so we decided to act now.”

1 St. Francis Catholic School in Brainerd for a greenhouse;
2 Morrison County Agricultural Society for an annual program to engage local youth in learning about and caring for plants;
3 Toxic Taters Coalition in Vergas to educate about pesticides and provide water testing and filters for people with elevated nitrates in their water;
4 Preservation Alliance of Minnesota for gardening classes;
5 Christ Our Light Church in Princeton/Zimmerman for a pollinator garden;
6 Central Minnesota Sustainability Project to work with St. Cloud schools to offer the opportunity to raise vegetable seedlings in classrooms to be used in the Maine Prairie Community Garden; and
7 Centra Sota Co-op to host a Soil Health Field Day to educate producers on practices that can be implemented on their land. 

The sisters set aside funds to establish the One Planet Fund. The first round was awarded in last November and the second round in February.

In addition to Royalton High School, the One Planet Fund committee awarded grants for seven other local projects. (See box.)

When Molly Weyrens, pastoral associate at Christ Our Light, first heard about the One Planet grant, she encouraged the parish’s newly formed Creation Care Team to apply.

“We are so grateful for the great vision of the Franciscan sisters to want to sustain our planet,” Molly said. “I am also glad and grateful for a team of folks here at Christ Our Light who share a desire to take action to keep Mother Earth healthy. Through this project we hope to enhance the beauty of the cemetery, provide healthy vegetation and also educate our community about alternative ways to care for and create their yards.”

Patti Kukowski, a member of the Creation Care Team, helped write the grant for the pollinator garden in the cemetery to attract bees and butterflies, while offering an opportunity for parishioners to get involved.

“We hope to bring our church community together by doing this project and by enjoying the finished project. We thought that this grant could help us to do plantings to help nature as well as provide a nice peaceful place for people to enjoy.”

Rick Walter has the same hope for the grant he helped write for the Central Minnesota Sustainability Project, an organization that helps connect people with small plots of land to grow their own food in community gardens. The project is twofold. It begins with giving students in St. Cloud-area schools the opportunity to raise the seedlings that will later be used in the gardens. And it offers a place for families, especially those new to the area, to tend a plot of land.

“We are not just growing food, we are growing a community,” Rick explained. “We have 83 plots gardened mostly by families who are new in this country. It makes me incredibly happy to offer this opportunity. The friendships that are made here are incredible. In the garden, it doesn’t matter what country you are from or what history you bring. Here in the garden, it is an even playing field. People greet each other, hug each other. It’s like old home week. I am looking forward to the next growing season.”

On behalf of the Franciscan community, Sister Carolyn invites schools, parishes and other organizations or groups to think creatively about the needs and possibilities in their own neighborhoods.

“We are thrilled with the projects that we have learned about thus far, and we encourage everyone to work across cultures and generations to come up with new ideas to support and care for one another and the earth,” she said.

One Planet Fund grants of up to $1,000 are awarded three times a year. Applications are due Nov. 1, Feb. 1 and July 1. All faith-based groups, especially youth groups, are encouraged to develop creative projects that will further climate change mitigation and sustainable living. Other service organizations and community groups may also apply. For more information and to download the application, visit fslf.org

Author: Kristi Anderson

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