This post is part of a 10 part blog series to celebrate ACE's 5th birthday. We'll be asking ACE staff members to answer 5 questions about their time with the organization, including their favorite stories and some surprise facts about themselves. We'll profile a different staff member each day!
ACE Staff Member: Matt Varvir
Position: Education and Leadership Associate for Dallas-Fort Worth.
Q: What was your proudest moment at ACE?
A: My proudest moment with ACE comes from a situation that could have easily become a catastrophe. I was holding one of the first ever ACE Leadership Training sessions in DFW at a local university and I arrived bright and early on this particular Saturday morning to set everything up beforehand. But, due to a few unfortunate bits of miscommunication, the room that I was supposed to be working in with about ten high school students was locked. And, short of breaking a window, I would not be able to unlock it. I tried calling and emailing various people for about 90 minutes, but no dice...by this point the Training was already 30 minutes behind schedule and all of the students had shown up and were ready to go. So I turned to these guys and gals and improvised: "Well, I guess we will be doing it here in the middle of the hallway." Now I was proud of myself for conducting the rest of our time completely on the fly with little to no materials and space to work with. But I was even more proud of these students who worked with me for over four hours in a hallway and never complained. In fact, they did a great job and never even acted like the present circumstances were strange...they could have stayed there for days! No matter what the future throws at these teens, they will do just fine.
Q: What’s your favorite part about working for ACE?
A: When I was in high school, I made a vow that I would go out of my way to never work in a cubicle. And, despite the fact that I am frequently on my computer in order to get work done, I've managed to pull that off. I love how active ACE requires me to be--going to new schools, giving the presentation, working with students at events, etc. Also, I love the fact that I am making a difference in the world. People often complain that they find their career path to be pointless...I never have that problem. (Don't get me wrong, I'd love to be doing even bigger things here in DFW, but we have to start somewhere!) And let's not forget that my co-workers are, no joke, the most inspiring group I have ever encountered.
Q: 7. It's no secret that we work hard, and put in some long days. What's your favorite video you like to watch/song you listen to for a mid-day break/pump up session?
A: The "Where the [Heck] is Matt?" videos (2008, 2012) always make my day a little brighter. I have been to quite a few places compared to most people my age, but these remind me just how large the world really is. And we can't lose hope in our mission because, despite the fact that we embody so many diverging beliefs and backgrounds, humanity can still complete some pretty awesome things by working together. Oh, and everyone likes to dance.
Q: What’s one thing your students and teachers don’t know about you?
A: After work, four to five days a week, I train in kickboxing and mixed martial arts to relax and work off some stress. I have studied a variety of styles off and on for about two decades now, but there is no question that my current classes are the most physically demanding of anything I have tried. As you might expect, the sessions can get a little rough sometimes (the instructor often uses me to demonstrate on, which doesn't help) and I have definitely woken up many mornings with strained muscles, sore joints, large bruises, etc. My biggest fear, though, is that I am going to get a black eye the night before an ACE presentation...probably not the best way for me to make a good impression at a school.
Q: What was your awakening "aha!" moment that got you involved in the climate movement?
A: My entry into the climate movement was not very direct. When I was a junior in college, I traveled with a class to the Galapagos Islands. One night Pepo, our tour guide who had spent his entire life there, talked about the difficulties he had with trying to get his parents to follow the strict environmental regulations that people in the Galapagos have to follow to ensure that the ecosystems are properly maintained. For instance, his father had brought home seeds for a fruit tree from a trip to the Caribbean--that might sound harmless, but nonnative organisms quickly become invasive species there. As Pepo put it, the older generations (most of which were born on the mainland in Ecuador) just didn't seem to think about the consequences that such actions can have. In contrast, though, because the kids and teenagers had been educated on the issue their entire lives, the younger generations understood the problem and complied with the regulations as if they were second-nature; in fact, many of them (as Pepo himself demonstrated) were even pressuring their parents to follow suit.
It was like someone flipped a switch in my head: does something in society need to change? Don't focus on convincing adults to change their minds. Teach youth what is not working, what they can do to help, and step back and let them take control...even if the change is not immediate, it is going to happen eventually. So, long story short, that was when I decided to be an educator. ACE allowed me to combine that path with an issue I really cared about (environmental conservation) and, voilà, I become an active and dedicated participant in the climate movement.
Thanks, Matt! Tomorrow: We introduce Wen Lee, and hear what she has to say about her time at ACE.