Kent organization looking to social media to gain younger members

Alison Adams

The Kent Environmental Council, KEC, will focus on increased communication with younger members of the community as their 2012 goal.

Thursday night’s program “Public Health and the Environment, Community Networking for a Cause” featured three speakers who emphasized social networking as necessary tool for the organization to embrace.

“The committee for our annual meeting got together and tried to pick community members that would be able to represent well the issues that we were wanting to represent,” said Lisa Regula-Meyer, the chair of KEC and soon-to-be defending PhD student in Kent State’s biology department. “Two of the major issues that KEC wanted to handle in the new year were communications and environmental health.”

KEC is a volunteer organization governed by a 16-member board with an annual budget of approximately $2500.

Members focus on advocacy for a livable, sustainable environment; education for dissemination of relevant information concerning environmental issues; engagement in developing public policies that are sustainable and environmentally sound; and networking with like-minded groups to create more effective regional planning and environmental action.

KEC has found it difficult to reach out to younger generations. The group is looking to social media such as Facebook in hopes of gaining younger members.

Kelly Ferry, the executive director of Haymaker Farmers’ Market, was one of the featured speakers. She said although she blogs, tweets and creates a weekly newsletter, she focuses on Facebook.

“I have a little bit too much fun with that,” said Ferry.

Ferry uses social media to build a bigger community. She often posts about state and national legislation that affects farmers’ markets.

“We’re talking about matters important to people who eat,” said Ferry.

One way the Haymaker Farmers’ Market has been able to involve more of the community is through the new wireless EBT system, donated by the KEC.

Wireless EBT systems make it possible for customers of farmers’ markets to pay with credit, debit and food stamp cards.

Ferry said she gets regular comments asking if they accept food stamps at the market.

This is one addition she hopes will bring in more people. Although Haymaker Farmers’ Market is out of room for vendors, Ferry said she needs more customers.

Amie Cajka, director of community relations at the Portage mental health and recovery board also stressed the importance of social media as a branding tool.

She said the components of becoming successful as either a business or organization is “integration of public information, public relations, advertising and marketing, networking and partnering.”

Once a business or organization makes their presence known, “the challenge is going beyond that initial recognition. It’s really about thinking outside the box,” said Cajka.

Communications is one area in which KEC needs to improve, because the organization is made up of older members.

“This organization has been around for over 40 years now, and a lot of our original members are still here,” said Regula-Meyer. “We are very happy to have their help, input and advice, but the generation gap does tend to make communication a little bit more difficult than with a newer group made up of younger members only.”

Maggie Stedman-Smith, assistant professor of environmental health at Kent State’s college of public health, focused on a topic that is a concern for the younger generation.

Stedman-Smith’s lecture stressed obesity as a growing problem in America.

“If you look at obesity, it can make a major impact of chronic disease,” said Stedman-Smith.

She believes education plays a major role in obesity.

“Education is the top tier for healthy communities,” Stedman-Smith said. “Education is related to income and occupation.”

Environment also plays a large part in people’s health. Communities that have a lower obesity rate promote “active transportation,” like walking.

However, the formula to building an area that motivates people to drive less is a complicated one.

“The zoning has to be right to allow mixed usage,” said Stedman-Smith.

According to Stedman-Smith, communities that feature mixed land use, higher street connectivity and higher residential density are home to healthier individuals overall.

Stedman-Smith said this relates to Kent State because of the new development downtown.

Regula-Meyer hoped there would have been a better turnout for the program, and said KEC always welcomes students.

KEC has collaborated on projects with Kent State in the past, including river cleanups and canoe trips at the Heritage Festival.

Regula-Meyer suggested the Kent State Sustainability Collective if students feel they wouldn’t be able to connect with KEC.

“That has a lot of the same focus areas and a lot of the same visions of helping to improve the environment,” Regula-Meyer said. “So any way you can help, helping our environment and the cause of sustainability is a great thing.”

Anyone interested in either becoming a member or learning more about KEC is invited to visit

Contact Alison Adams at [email protected].