Recap: 20th Anniversary Breakfast

Well, our spring breakfast came and went faster than you can say “From the Ground Up: HEAL Utah’s 20th Anniversary Breakfast featuring Dr. Sandra Steingraber.”

Every year we host a breakfast in May, one of our two annual fundraising events, so that our community of advocates can gather together for meaningful conversations, be inspired, and, of course, to give to HEAL and further support our work.

This year’s event was extra special as we celebrated our 20th anniversary! HEAL became a chartered non-profit in 1999, which we observed by having biologist, writer, advocate and cancer survivor, Dr. Sandra Steingraber as our keynote speaker, reflecting our driving value of pursuing evidence-based environmental policy change. The cherry-on-top was having Jason Groenewald, one of HEAL’s co-founders, reflect on HEAL’s early days and wrap up the morning.

Missed our event? Keep reading to get a recap of the program and please consider giving for our 20th anniversary if you haven’t already. And thank you to our event sponsors, KUHL, Merit Medical, Sentry Financial, and Creative Energies!

Once everyone grabbed their breakfast and secured themselves a hot cup of coffee, HEAL’s Executive Director Dr. Scott Williams took the stage to talk about why he HEALs Utah (his grandkids and newest dependent, Yahzi) and how HEAL, unbeknownst to us, is going global and now HEALing Europe (just kidding – we only found our European doppelganger organization, the Health and Environment Alliance).

Then we brought our Senior Policy Associate, Michael Shea, on stage to announce the 20th Anniversary Climate Leadership Awards. This award, which recognizes individuals who took innovative, meaningful action to combat climate change, went to Tyler Poulson of the Salt Lake City Sustainability Program, Lisa Yoder of the Summit County Sustainability Program, and Luke Cartin of the Park City Sustainability Department. We gave them this award for their inspiring, and frankly incredible, work on crafting House Bill 411 the Community Renewable Energy Act and pushing it into law during this past state legislative session. HB 411 carves a path for cities in Utah to achieve 100% net renewable energy generation. Thank you Tyler, Lisa, and Luke!

Then Scott introduced our keynote speaker, Dr. Sandra Steingraber, a nationally acclaimed biologist, activist, and author. Sometimes called the modern-day Rachel Carson, Sandra has been examining the connections between chemical pollution and human health ever since she was 20 years old and diagnosed with bladder cancer, which was later linked to chemicals emitted by the industries around her hometown in Illinois.

Sandra began her speech by telling well-known story of John Snow – no, not the one on Game of Thrones, the one known as the father of modern epidemiology due to his work in the 1850s on tracing the connection between a contaminated well and a cholera outbreak. But Sandra didn’t end the story where most do, where Snow’s activism led to the water pump handle being removed and the epidemic subsiding. Instead, Sandra told us the rest of the story, in which officials in London refused to believe Snow’s theory and eventually turned the water pump back on and it was decades before Snow’s germ theory of disease was widely accepted.

She told the entire story of Snow to prove a point: a story doesn’t end until you take action that changes the facts of the story and leads to a better ending.

Sandra then took us to her roots as a biologist to explain how climate change is harming the building blocks of survival, from plankton in the ocean to microbes that live deep in the earth, and how the unholy trinity of oil, gas, and methane and extraction processes like fracking have been demonstrated many times over to damage our environment in ways that negatively impact our health.

But it’s not all doom and gloom for these microorganisms and us. Across the country, including here in Utah, grassroots movements are stepping up and speaking up about the health effects of fossil fuels and against letting corporate profits trump the health of our communities. By using the data from sound science, the chorus our voices for political involvement, and direct action, Sandra said, policy on our climate will change.

Sandra finished her speech with an original poem reflecting on the duty to act for the environment. Then one of HEAL’s co-founders and previous executive directors, Jason Groenewold, closed our event by appealing to our guests that, if they were inspired at all by the science and stories Sandra related, to please donate to HEAL right now so that we can continue protecting public health from environmental threats and taking on today’s biggest challenges like radioactive waste, air pollution. climate change.

If you weren’t able to attend but wish that you were able to hear Sandra or Jason speak, have no fear! We are gearing up to launch the next season of our summer podcast and where Sandra and Jason are featured in our first two episodes!

Thank you to everyone who joined us on Tuesday, and thank you to our volunteers and board members who helped us every step of the way. And a special thanks to our event sponsors, KUHL, Merit Medical, Sentry Financial, and Creative Energies. We hope that those of you were were lucky enough to attend enjoyed the event as much as we did and showed your support with a donation, and that, if you weren’t able to be there, you will donate to HEAL today.