Aquinas Alum Honored with Mayor Heartwell Award

By: Doug Seites '10

Published on

Two women standing

At the 2nd Annual Breakfast of Conservation Champions presented by the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, Aquinas alum Anne Marie Hertl ’11 received the George Heartwell Community Engagement Award. The event took place on May 23rd at the Fredrick Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park and honored environmental leaders. Hertl was presented the award by former Mayor Heartwell and current Mayor Rosalynn Bliss. Hertl received the award in recognition of her work regarding diversity and inclusion in the environmental movement.

Hertl was recognized as an emerging green leader in West Michigan and had the opportunity to speak briefly in front of environmental leaders from across the state. To Anne Marie, this was a great experience to stand with important leaders in the environmental field. “It was really cool to have an opportunity to talk to that caliber of professionals, and to have them really hear me. It was definitely a privilege and an opportunity to speak to that.”

Anne Marie received her Bachelor of Arts from Aquinas College with majors in Political Science and Community Leadership in 2011. She currently works as the Community Activism Manager at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC), and has served on the Seeds of Promise Housing Impact Team since 2013. At WMEAC, she works to connect the communities, individuals, and businesses of West Michigan with resources that will help support their environmental journey. As Community Activism Manager, Hertl uses engagement to integrate advocacy, education, and behavior change in WMEAC's program, development, and inclusion and diversity initiatives.

Anne Marie’s recognition was largely based on her efforts to build an inclusive movement of environmental and public health activists. This is through her contributions to WMEAC’s IDEAL (Inclusion and Development of Environmental Allies and Leaders) Initiative. IDEAL is an initiative making changes both internally in the WMEAC culture and externally for how WMEAC operates with its partners and within the community. IDEAL works to facilitate inclusion and promote diversity within the organization and in the environmental movement as a whole. By having a platform to acknowledge, confront and adapt to issues of inclusion, the organization can work to update its behaviors and culture to be one that values inclusion and access.

Hertl’s work with IDEAL dates back to 2012, when strategic planning began on the project. According to Hertl, the work of IDEAL helps to ensure that sustainability is also defined by ensuring that personal well-being (people) has equal priority to the well-being of place (planet). She recognizes that despite all of the positive steps the environmental community has made in recent years, not everyone has had their voices heard, and that a lot of the answers may come from people who haven’t been well represented. “Sometimes people are excluded, not on purpose, but without anyone realizing it,” said Hertl. “We need to make sure that everyone has their voice heard, and that we are a looking at issues from every point of view.”

IDEAL has provided a way to introduce social justice institutions to environmental justice and climate justice and has given environmental organizations a way to connect social issues with environmental topics. “My goal with any environmental and climate justice project/program/initiative is to work within communities so that they can be empowered to develop their own solutions to protect and grow healthy communities,” added Hertl.