“Any community seriously concerned with its own freedom has to be concerned about other peoples’ freedom as well.” — Assata Shakur                                           

Abbie Winter is not only my neighbor, she is a woman close to my heart, since we share much in common. She grew up in the area, developing a love for the reservoir and surrounding trails, and volunteered for the Connecticut Audubon Society in the summer throughout high school. She loves teaching and community service and writes about Easton and the people living here. She is a contributing writer for Easton Neighbors Magazine and the Easton Courier.  

The first time I actually met Abbie was during the recent and dreadfully long power outage last month, as a result of tropical storm Isaias. I wrote a story about her and the charging station she set up in her front yard. Not only has she been a great neighbor to have on our immediate block, she’s also a conscientious member of her local community and world at large. Earlier in the summer, she was raising money for the Black Woman’s Health Imperative and holding her sign of protest in union with the Black Lives Matter Movement along with friends Emily McKeon, Dana Ceva and several others in town. Abbie is always willing to join and raise money for a cause that helps others. 

Abbie graduated from Bucknell University in 2019 with a degree in Environmental Science and Biology. In the summer of 2019, she worked for the Southwestern Connecticut Clean Cities Coalition, wanting to work for a government-funded program focusing on sustainable development. Clean Cities is a Department of Energy program focused on transitioning clean energy into the transportation sector to divest from fossil fuels.

In the fall of 2019, Abbie worked as a contract teacher for Easton school programs at the Connecticut Audubon Society. She taught lessons of fundamental environmental literacy and natural sciences to students ages 4 to 10 years old. For many students, it was their first time in a nature preserve, so it was exciting for Abbie to see their first reactions to some of the most magical experiences in nature like finding a bright red back salamander under a log.

In the spring of 2020, she received an offer to work in the Air Management Bureau for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), but the start date was pushed back continuously due to COVID-19. In her leisure time, while waiting for her start date, she began volunteering for the Aspetuck Land Trust (ALT), after seeing a post in its newsletter asking for digital administration help. 

As her DEEP start date continued to be pushed back through the summer, ALT promoted her to a part-time position. Abbie, like many of us who have grown up in the area, has been utilizing ALT’s amazing trails, starting as a young kid, toughing out the “long” hike to the blueberry patch at Trout Brook Valley, and going for casual walks at Island Pond Preserve with friends in high school. 

Having returned to Easton last year, Abbie has been excited to give back to her community she’s been absent from for over four years. She is proud to have joined a group of alumni and students from Joel Barlow High School this past June, who are passionate about working with their alma mater ER9 school district to decolonize education and establish anti-racist curriculum policies, and programming.

“It’s been empowering to reconnect with old classmates and meet new anti-racism advocates, all while making positive change in our community,” Abbie said. “I was excited to join the Easton Energy and Environment Task Force with my friend Dana Ceva. It’s been really fun to attend each meeting with her and bring our creativity to the table together to strengthen Easton’s environmental stewardship.”

Even connecting with the virtual Easton community groups has been exciting and fulfilling. “’Buy Nothing Easton’ is my favorite Facebook group, since it’s a wholesome community of people with the goal to give, receive, share, lend, and express gratitude,” she said. “People post stuff they no longer need, people graciously take what they’re in need of. Also, it helps divert waste from Connecticut’s incinerator plants, which are already overwhelmed, outdated, and spewing harmful pollution into the nearby communities. I also joined Women of Easton Facebook group this past June.”

So where did Abbie’s call to civil action stem from? According to Abbie, her parents prioritized empathy as a critical value for both Abbie and her sister, Emily, who is working toward her doctorate in school psychology, while Abbie has pursued a career in environmental quality management with a focus on environmental justice. As soon as Abbie discovered that not everyone has the same quality of air, water, and overall wellbeing due to where they live or the services they have access to, she committed to studying how to solve environmental injustice. 

“Unavoidable data shows that climate change hazards (flooding, erosion, cyclones and hurricanes) disproportionately endanger marginalized individuals due to preexisting structural inequities, such as inaccessible safe housing opportunities and insufficient public services to assist in recovery after a climate hazard,” said Abbie.

“Recently, COVID-19 has only made this vulnerability of socially and economically discriminated groups more unavoidably evident. And locally, just over Easton’s border and into Bridgeport, I can’t ignore that roughly one in seven students suffer from asthma due to disproportionate exposure to air pollution, attributed to sources like the Wheelabrator waste-burning facility and residential proximity to major roadways such as I-95. Peoples’ air quality should not be determined by their zip code.” said Abbie.

While many people in today’s society, especially in suburbia, often strive for wealth as a common goal in life, it is those who also follow a non-materialistic path who seem to achieve a deeper sense of happiness. I’m always impressed when young adults make a commitment to the vital issues facing our future. 

As I was writing this article, I learned that Abbie has just moved to Andover, Conn. to take on a new assignment with ALT. Her new community is lucky to have her. Although Abbie will always travel to where she is needed most, she will always stay connected to her family and friends and to preserving Easton’s natural beauty, from which her love for the environment stems.