Climate Connections: 2023 Smarty Pants winners light the way
Abby Huseth, Amy Cilimburg, Shanti Devins, and Susan Teitelman
Every December, our team at Climate Smart Missoula gathers with our community to celebrate another year of local climate action, and recognize folks who have stepped up as climate leaders with our famed Smarty Pants Awards.
Reflecting on 2023 - the hottest year on record for our home planet - the path forward to a livable future can feel dark and murky. Yet everywhere we look, we see people shining their own lights, bringing others in, taking action, and illuminating that path for all of us.
We’ve heard it said that “hope is a verb with her sleeves rolled up” - and that’s exactly what the folks we’ve honored this year represent. Addressing the climate crisis is the biggest team sport ever, and it’s inspiring to see the ways people bring their skills and passions to this collective effort. We hope by sharing some of their stories, you’re also inspired to keep taking action or step forward in new ways in 2024.
Special Mention: Young Climate Leaders
This year, in addition to our official awards, we’ve been so impressed by some of the younger folks in our community that we wanted to specially recognize and thank them. We were lucky enough to work directly with three fantastic college interns: Aubrey Frissell, who is an accomplished artist and created some amazing graphics for us and for our Electrify Missoula campaign; Reeve Schroeder, who spent numerous hours cleaning and distributing HEPA air purifiers and even choreographed a social-media-worthy dance for Wildfire Smoke Ready week; and Georgia Walker-Kelleher, a master of energy modeling who built a super useful interactive tool to help map out pathways to reaching our community’s 100% clean electricity by 2030 goal.
In addition to these awesome interns, three of the youth plaintiffs from Held v MT live right here in Missoula: Grace Gibson-Snyder, Olivia Vesovich and Mica Kantor. It’s hard to understate the impact that these three and their fellow plaintiffs have had as they’ve made their case to the courts and to the world. We’re so grateful and proud of how they’ve carried the torch, and the best thing we can all do to thank them is to keep showing up alongside them.
Now, on to the official awards:
Masters in the Fine Art of Community Building: Lisa Davey
When we talk about making an impact, we often think about policy changes or concrete, quantifiable outcomes. These are crucial, but they don’t happen on their own: it takes the behind the scenes work of building relationships and bringing people together to build the power to create those changes. This year’s Masters in the Fine Art of Community Building awardee is someone who understands this in her core and embodies it everyday as the lead organizer for Common Good Missoula.
Lisa has been in this current role only for a couple years, but she’s been organizing for nearly her entire life - starting at a young age as she dealt with some very hard life situations and had to advocate for the needs of a child who was born prematurely. Her vulnerability and deep capacity for empathy are core to how she interacts with others. She believes wholeheartedly in everyone’s ability to be a leader. Combine this with her strong sense of justice and sharp strategic mind, and you have the recipe for a community-builder extraordinaire.
As a skilled organizer, Lisa also understands how everything is connected. Common Good Missoula is a broad-based organization made up of diverse member institutions that bring their constituents together to advocate on issues facing our community.
From the beginning, Lisa has advocated strongly for climate groups to be at the table with this new effort. She innately understands how climate issues are connected with so many other challenges facing Missoula, and knows we can do more and solve these problems more equitably when we do it together. A connected community is a resilient community, and we’re so grateful for Lisa and her deep investment in community-building to benefit all of us.
Caleb Koebble: Rising Star
Our Rising Star award recognizes those at the beginning of their climate leadership journeys who are already blazing a bright path. Originally from Georgia, Caleb came to Missoula for graduate school at UM, completing a masters in philosophy just last year. As he was finishing his degree, the newly formed Montana chapter of the national organization Interfaith Power and Light (IPL) just happened to be seeking their very first Executive Director, and were smart enough to reel Caleb in.
Montana IPL, as a brand new organization and working at the intersection of two intense and potentially polarizing issues - the climate crisis and religion & spirituality - really needed the right person for their first leader! Caleb has shined in this role. In his first year, he traveled across the state and worked with dozens of churches, helping them understand their carbon footprint and share ways to take action.
Here in Missoula, he seeks out opportunities to partner with other climate organizations and is taking the initiative to learn the ins and outs of electrification, a topic near and dear to our hearts, so he can better help faith communities save energy in their facilities.
Caleb is a different kind of star - someone who attracts the respect and attention of those around him not because he’s loud and dramatic, but because he’s humble, thoughtful, and quietly persistent. Members of the IPL board who work with Caleb say he “brings good humor to hard things”, “is a collaborator”, and “a joy to work with”. We can’t think of qualities that are better suited to bringing new groups and audiences into the climate movement, and we’re so excited to see where Caleb goes from here.
Karen Sippy: Doctorate of Dedication
In a nutshell, Karen is a "professional tree hugger" who has invested so much in our community. Among her many accomplishments, Karen founded the organization Trees for Missoula 12 years ago and has served as its sole volunteer executive director ever since. In this time, Karen has been a fierce advocate for a healthy urban forest through community stewardship, education, and outreach, and she's been instrumental in supporting the city's urban forestry department.
Karen's background as an educator has allowed her to be a successful champion of trees. She's equipped countless individuals and groups across the community with both practical and philosophical knowledge about urban forestry. She's built relationships with volunteers, residents, businesses, non-profits, and local government. Karen claims she's not a professional arborist, but she's darn close!
Karen’s total dedication to trees and the people that love them make her well-deserving of this award - and we know she’ll continue to find ways to be a tree advocate now that she’s “retired” and has handed Trees for Missoula to Climate Smart Missoula. We’ll work hard to honor her work and channel her boldness, grit, and passion for our community.
Caroline Bean: Catalyst for Change
Each year we offer our Catalyst for Change award to an individual that has just the right alchemy and, by their creativity, wisdom, and bravery, create the best kind of action seemingly out of thin air. No one is more deserving of this Smarty Pants award than Caroline Bean, a colleague who has truly catalyzed some amazing climate action! Caroline has been making good stuff happen in Missoula since before Climate Smart was founded, as an AmeriCorps member with the City of Missoula.
Following a stint in grad school, she returned to Missoula and came on as program director at Climate Smart, where she helped craft our Climate Ready Missoula resiliency plan, and planned a successful virtual Building(s) for the Future Summit. For the last two years, she’s been the Climate Action Program Manager for Missoula County, and we are all so amazed at the change Caroline is catalyzing.
Climate work is like climbing a mountain – we don’t always see the top but we know where we’re headed. At the same time, this mountain is not an island - other peaks and hills surround it, with things we could be doing on each. Caroline has an uncanny ability to focus on the climb and yet consider those other peaks. It’s as if we all stay focused circling around the mountain we’re on while Caroline - strategically and innovatively - finds ways to leap.
A quick example: a year ago we learned about a prize competition offered to communities to build a clean energy coalition; what might the innovation needed to make our application stand out? Caroline’s idea was to lean into equity and with her relationship with Mountain Home Montana, create a new coalition to work with single moms and begin to diversify the workforce needed for the clean energy transition. We not only won this prize, but last week we went to Atlanta where Caroline gave a final pitch and we won second place; a total of over $250,000 has now come to our community to build this coalition.
We are so grateful for Caroline’s wild knack for knowing when to leap, when to stir things up, and for the shifts she has sparked!
These Smarty Pants recipients help build a climate-smart Missoula - and beyond - every day, and we are all better off for the ways they share their light. Together with all of these inspiring individuals and so many others, we are ready to hit the ground running in 2024, and we hope you, too, will join us.
Abby Huseth, Amy Cilimburg, Shanti Devins, and Susan Teitelman are the staff of Climate Smart Missoula. Climate Smart Missoula brings this Climate Connections column to you two Fridays of every month. Learn more about our work and sign up for our e-newsletter at missoulaclimate.org.