Local changemakers

Local changemakers part 1

By Brett Marlo DeSantis      December 2018

How do we solve tough challenges? Do we even know where to begin? Sometimes we are so busy dealing with the symptoms or consequences of existing systems, ideas and inventions that we fail to see the true source of our problems as well as the potential solutions.

Whether we aware of it or not, our lives are organized by many systems: family, education, work, sports and recreation, buildings, agriculture, culture, politics, economics and more.

Humans create and organize these systems to help us manage more effectively. However sometimes we get so entrenched in outdated methods that what was first set out to be an effective way, now becomes a barrier or a set of control mechanisms that hinder positive change and thought evolution.

Have you heard the phrase “there’s no sense in bucking the system”?

Well think again, and bring in the changemakers!

A changemaker is someone who uses their ability to take ideas to action; a term coined by the social entrepreneurship organization, Ashoka, “meaning one who desires change in the world and, by gathering knowledge and resources, makes that change happen.”

Meet four locals who are attempting to make systematic change in four different areas: the arts, sports, agriculture and buildings. Jason Sobottka: Professor of Humanities and Visual Arts/Artist & Gallery Owner, Vito DeSantis: PGA Golfer & Founder of Grips fore Good SPC, Becca Clark: Urban Farmer/Honey’s Healthy Hive, and Rick Gagliano: Founder at Pin Foundations Inc.

Q&A What led you to want to make change?

Jason- I’m drawn to the gathering knowledge and resources. I feel the investigation and the pondering of “what if” is really what drives me. We hope to do our small part to showcase the vast talent and diverse perspectives of artists from Tacoma, the historical suburbs, and the neighboring First Nations. We are committing to emerging and mid-career artists. We want to draw more attention to the enormous cultural contributions that local artists make; emphasizing the roll art and creativity play in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, ART, and Mathematics) education and training.

Vito- It’s hard to remember whether I was looking for an idea, or it just found me. However that works in the universe. Ideas kind of come in and out of people and I think you have to be ready to accept them. Before that idea I had millions of ideas that I had shared and I never went any further with them. I walked into work one day and watched what was happening step by step; as I was walking into my office, I saw employees cutting the grip off, ripping it off and all in one motion throwing it in the garbage. Something inside of me said, “Why are we doing this? Why are we throwing rubber away?”

Becca- Before we realized the potential all of this had, it started with our family, as a way for us to better ourselves and teach our young boys knowledge that’s been lost over the generations. We have a strong desire for change and have been putting together new ideas to help make those changes happen.

Rick- I actually consider myself a change attempter . . . because the market ultimately decides whether change is going to hold or not. To me making change really means having it be significant enough that it is used broadly and a lot of people understand why and are willing to are willing to adopt it. Most of the drivers for me are being part of the building industry all of my life, and actually looking at the things that seemed really inefficient and don’t make sense anymore as they developed over the years. I’ve always wondered why people dug stuff up when it seemed to cause so many problems and create such messy sites. When I got into architecture school in the 80’s, I realized that there was a gap. Number one, no one in the design world was even considering foundations. People thought it had already been solved so it wasn’t an aspect of design that we ever touched in school. So that was a light bulb for me, there’s an opening; no one else is doing it.

Q&A How and when did you take the first step?

Jason- Fall of 2017, I asked my dean for a one-year leave of absence. This unpaid leave was not a sabbatical but a leave to return to industry. During this year, my wife and I would transition our personal art studio into a larger and more public-facing studio, gallery and classroom. Our venture is called Tacoma Gallery.

Vito- It started right at thought inception in 2014, I grabbed a box, cut a hole in it, wrote drop grips here and I handed it to my assistant. And I said, we are not going to throw rubber away anymore. I will find someone to recycle it. And I never thought that at some point I would have a business that would repurpose these things. So that’s how it started. The box was filled within a month. After six months, my office was full of boxes. I started calling around to recyclers and every one of them said they didn’t need it. So I started to experiment with the grip rubber.

Becca- The jump (I call it a jump because we really didn’t know where it would take us or where we would land) began in 2015. This is when our passion to teach ourselves and better our family with a personal garden and some mason bees grew into a business and pollination program. We began gardening on a larger scale and offering our overflow to the community.

Rick-  It was the late eighties, we were already talking then about low impact and stormwater issues and all those kind of things, and everyone was working on how to improve or fix the impacts of current construction without ever really considering whether the current construction was the right thing in the first place. And that became my starting point. I knew that there was something frustrating me in building and if I could come up with a true shortcut [a way of bringing us back to an efficient system] for people and also touching upon all these environmental aspects, there was a very good chance it would fly.

Check out part 2 in next month’s issue to find out more about local changemakers: their journey, what they have already brought to our communities, what they are planning next, and what you can do to help!