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Jerilyn Lopez Mendoza joins The Climate Center as its first Los Angeles Regional Organizer

I’m thrilled and excited to have started work for The Climate Center as our first Los Angeles Regional Organizer. Although I’ve studied and trained as a lawyer, I’ve worked on environmental policy-related initiatives for over 20 years and I believe I bring an innovative and collaborative energy to my work at The Climate Center.

During my career, I’ve championed environmental improvements from the perspective of environmental non-profit organizations, as an appointed government official on local, state and international levels, and through the lens of utilities. Most recently, I held a position at Southern California Edison in regulatory affairs. Immediately prior to that, I worked at statewide advocacy organization Coalition for Clean Air, where I tried to advance clean and green technologies in the freight sector, which contributes a heavy pollution burden to those who live and work near ports.

I came to environmental and climate work in a roundabout way. Just following my graduation from college and living in San Francisco, the first Gulf War broke out and I grew deeply concerned about the burning oil wells in the Middle East. Because I knew next to nothing on these topics, I attended a teach-in organized by Greenpeace and listened avidly to advocates discussing the role of access to oil and gas as the purpose for the armed conflict. The last speaker was Ellie Goodwin, an African-American woman from NRDC, who stood up and said, “All this discussion about global environmental impacts of oil production is great but we also need to talk about environmental abuses in our own backyards.” Ellie was the first person of color I had ever seen talking about environmental issues. She then began to describe lead-based paint poisoning in the Bay Area and its impact on children. And it was as if a light switched on in my head. I was planning to be a teacher at that time, and I thought, “How effective can I be as a teacher if my students are coming to me impacted by toxic exposure? What if they don’t have access to clean water and air?” After the teach-in, I approached Ellie and asked, “How can I learn more about the topics you were discussing today?” and she handed me a stack of publications entitled, “Race, Poverty and the Environment.” 

I took them home and read them all, studying them to understand this new idea. I had grown up in Montebello, a small city just east of East Los Angeles. I was literally from the wrong side of the railroad tracks on the south side – no grade separations – with lots of industrial uses nearby and diesel trucks constantly rumbling on the streets. As a sophomore in college, while home for the summer, my family was evacuated in the middle of the night due to a dangerous chlorine gas leak at a local business. The “nice” part of north Montebello was built on a former Superfund site, old oil and gas fields. These experiences resonated with what I was reading. That was it for me – I had found my passion and purpose.

I attended law school at UCLA with the intention of becoming an environmental justice lawyer. I took relevant courses such as Community Education, Outreach and Organizing, Environmental Litigation and Urban Housing. After a few years working at large law firms, I landed the job of a staff attorney and later, policy director, of the Los Angeles Environmental Justice Project Office of Environmental Defense Fund. For nine years, and in collaboration with numerous and diverse coalitions, I worked on advancing Community Benefits Agreements as a way to ensure environmental improvements of large development projects, as well as helping to launch the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust to convert abandoned lots into productive green spaces in the urban core. I also served as a volunteer appointed Harbor Commissioner on the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners overseeing operations at the Port of Los Angeles, where I helped to create and launch the first in the world Clean Air Action Plan to reduce harmful air emissions from mobile port sources. From there, I have worked in a number of different positions, some volunteer, some paid, including one as a volunteer appointee of President Barack Obama to an international advisory committee on environmental impacts of NAFTA implementation.

It was through this advisory committee that I learned much more about the harmful effects of climate change in North America. During June of 2019, at a meeting in Mexico City,my life was shaken again by a powerful speaker. During a presentation on “Climate Change: Disaster Risk and Reduction and Resilience” by Robin Cox, Director of the ResiliencebyDesign Lab at Royal Roads University (Canada), I was deeply moved by her speech on the need for urgent and bold – not incremental – action on climate change worldwide. Professor Cox’s persuasive and passionate words caused me to think deeply about my professional choices and how I could better align my work with the need to urgently address climate change in a deep and significant way. This led me here, to The Climate Center, where I hope to make meaningful and measurable contributions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing action to combat climate change.

Other motivations for me in this essential work is my 13 year-old daughter, numerous nieces and nephews and a deep desire to leave them with a sustainable future. We still have time to make a difference and with hard work and a sense of purpose, my colleagues and I at The Climate Center will make our mark fighting climate change and leaving behind a better world.

Julie Heric

Julie Heric joins The Climate Center as its Executive & Admin Assistant

My work in education emphasized reverence for the natural world. As the Office Administrator, I daily witnessed children making connections to the environment and was amazed by how effortlessly these young people understood the interconnectedness in every part of the world around them. Toddlers and preschoolers tended classroom gardens and experienced the joys of producing their own salads. Elementary students cared for the chickens and sold the eggs to raise funds for field trips. They learned about the relationship between farming, gardening and the carbon cycle. On the playground, students were observing wildlife (foxes, deer, hawks, and insects) and taking special care not to harm any of the living creatures around them.

Over the last five years, students’ outdoor play became increasingly restrictive due to dangerous air quality that resulted from wildfires. It was disheartening to watch how the undeniable impacts of climate change created a new normal. Young children wore N95 masks to play outside and required advanced air filtration in the classrooms.

I draw on those moments, watching the sense of wonderment in so many children, as inspiration to conduct the necessary work to support the executive team and the crucial mission of The Climate Center.

I am grateful to know that I may contribute to an organization that seeks to better the planet for future generations.

A conservation area on the outskirts of Cusco, beneath the peak Nevado La Verónica (Wakaywillka)

Emily Hendrick joins The Climate Center as Institutional Grants Manager

As a climate and social justice activist and advocate, I am excited to join The Climate Center as its first Institutional Giving Manager and work to ensure that my home state of California achieves net-negative emissions and serves as a model for other states and countries. Though I grew up in San Francisco, my environmental career began at Middlebury College in Vermont, which I chose due to the strength of its Environmental Studies program and the presence of faculty like Bill McKibben.

After earning a B.A. in Environmental Policy and minor in Psychology, and learning Portuguese to study abroad in Brazil, I attended the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, CA to obtain an M.P.A. in International Nonprofit Management. I soon became the Development Assistant for the Environmental Defense Fund in Boulder, CO. While enjoying the challenge of major gifts fundraising (and the challenge of summiting all of Colorado’s 14ers), I felt somewhat disconnected from our programs and yearned to be on the grassroots level, so I decided to move to Guatemala (where a number of my ancestors lived).

There, I managed major donor accounts for a nonprofit called Mayan Families, which works to advance education, nutrition & health, and economic development for indigenous communities around Lake Atitlan. The majority of my colleagues were locals, who spoke Spanish as well as K’iche’, Kaqchikel and Tz’utujil. After my contract ended I moved to Cusco, Peru to work as Strategic Relations Manager for the Association of Andean Ecosystems (ECOAN). As the only English-speaker in the office, I helped them develop relationships with U.S. foundations and raised money to create protected conservation areas for the habitat of critically endangered birds in the Sacred Valley and Amazon. In both places, I remember being so moved by seeing the social injustices suffered by indigenous Guatemalans (worsened now, by COVID-19) and the strong desire of Quechua-speaking communities to coordinate with us in restoring their land, for their own benefit as well as for the earth. Similarly, as a mountaineer, I remember being saddened by seeing glaciers recede from one year to the next in the Cordillera Blanca. During my time abroad, I garnered a deep respect for the systemic challenges these organizations and communities face. I joined Mayan Families’ Board of Directors in January 2021 and still provide occasional translations for ECOAN. 

In late 2016, I moved back to San Francisco to be closer to family. Armed with the desire to focus on social justice in my environmental work, I joined the development team at Friends of the Earth’s as their Grant Writer, raising foundation funding for projects ranging from arctic shipping standards to China sustainable finance to reducing pollinator-harming pesticides in retailer supply chains.

As time goes on, it becomes ever more apparent that the poorest, the elderly and people of color tend to have the least capacity to cope with crises like pandemics and the impacts of climate change, including drought, flooding, hurricane-force winds, and sea-level rise. We have the moral obligation to protect low-income and vulnerable populations while providing them with energy access, and to ensure that government health and education resources reach historically marginalized communities. I am excited to continue my career with The Climate Center and look forward to tackling these challenges in the years to come.