The Living Lab is a place where students can deepen their Kinship with Creation and learn how to create an environmentally sustainable, socially just and economically viable world. Alumni and past parents regularly return to campus for Saturday Service Days and work side-by-side with students to maintain this campus jewel.
The Living Lab’s longest and most vital tradition, these service days were spearheaded in 2000 by a small group of AP Environmental Studies students eager to make a lasting change in the world.
The monthly tradition has grown and many O’Dowd community members regularly join in to help sustain the Living Lab. Activities include weeding, planting, repairing hardscape such as fences and paths, and building new features. Volunteers are directed in their efforts by Devra Laner (Living Lab Agricultural Food Specialist), Jeremy Pearson (Ecological Gardener and Educator) and Annie Prutzman (Living Lab Co-Founder).
Mark Leyva ’76 said that his employer recently introduced an employee “Day of Service,” allowing all employees eight hours of volunteer time during work hours at their favorite location.
Leyva didn’t have to think twice about where he wanted to volunteer – his alma mater. “I chose to put in some of those hours during the summer at the Living Lab, since Jeremy and Devra don’t have students available to help then,” he said. “I learned so much about planting, composting, and the veggies, trees and plants native to California.”
In addition, Leyva participated in the September Living Lab Service Day, working with both students and adults.
“Part of the reason I volunteer is because I remember what the hillside looked like when I was going to school at O’Dowd. The transformation has been fabulous,” he said. “And I love being on campus, enjoying the peaceful environment and open space.
Chris Leboa ’15 says the Living Lab is his favorite place in the world and the staff there are like a second family to him. “I keep going back because it is great to see the things that I helped build over the last eight years now come to fruition, and to see the newer students come to appreciate and enjoy the space like I have,” he said. “With all the talk of destruction and degradation in climate change science, it is necessary to have places like the Living Lab to go back to where humans really have changed the land for the better.”
Past parents and landscape architects Karen and Paul McArdle said the service days provide an opportunity for them to share their professional knowledge and interest in ecology, site design, construction and gardening with the Living Lab community.
They noted that the student-created, continually evolving ecological study area is one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s most exhilarating urban habitats.
They continue to volunteer because the Living Lab always has needs and opportunities. “As project-oriented folks, we love following a spark of an idea through design and into construction. Figuring out ways to achieve these projects with minimal budget and unskilled volunteer work force adds an additional challenge,” they said.
An added bonus is working with current students on projects. “It’s inspiring to see students encounter the unfamiliar, face challenges, work together, interact with nature and develop into leaders,” The McArdles said.
David McAneny remembers dropping his son, Will ’11, and daughter, Annie ’15, off to work in the Living Lab and asking if there was anything he could do to help out. “That is not a rhetorical for the Living Lab folks,” he said.
McAneny says he enjoys helping in the Living Lab because he gets to use dormant carpentry and building skills to help build features the staff has envisioned for the space, such as the compost bin, stairs and trails, and chicken coop. “I love the building part of it, and watching the projects get included in the curriculum. Most of all, though, I enjoy the people of the Living Lab. It’s a special group of people – they are teachers, mentors and great stewards of that piece of land, and they are fun to be around,” he said. “I also love working with the kids on the projects, showing them some new skills and absorbing some of their kid-energy.”