Profiles in Prevention -- Nicki Murphy
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Nicki Murphy is a Robbinsdale Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) Parent Educator
Nicki is a licensed Parent and Family Educator working in Robbinsdale Area Schools. She facilitates parenting groups and works one on one with families. Nicki knows the way we interact with our environment impacts children's development, our parenting, and ultimately our parent-child relationships. She loves fostering appreciation of the environment within families because it makes a positive impact on the Robbinsdale community, where she also lives.
Pollution Prevention Accomplishment:
Along with changing personal habits for her own plastic and chemical usage, Nicki educates parents in Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) classes and helps them find easy ways to use fewer plastic bags and create non-toxic cleaners.
What did it take to accomplish it?
After more than 15 years as a parent educator, Nicki understands that it can be difficult for parents to find the time or energy to change their routine behaviors. Even those who are very concerned about the effects of harmful chemicals in their household often say that they don’t know where to start. In addition, non-toxic alternatives can be more expensive than their chemical-laden counterparts. That’s why she makes a point to set aside time in her ECFE classes to help parents take the first couple steps.
As an alternative to plastic grocery bags, Nicki provides reusable mesh fabric produce bags, along with lessons on how to use them effectively. In order to receive their free bags, parents (and their children!) must sign a pledge to use the bag whenever possible. Although there is no way to know for sure whether parents are using their bag, she has found that the pledge allows her to follow up with them and add a measure of accountability.
What barriers needed to be overcome?
She says the most common issue she’s heard is simply that parents accidentally leave the mesh bag at home or in the car, even if they intend on using it. Reminding her classes frequently about the bags has resulted in more frequent usage.
Parents encounter similar barriers when it comes to making their own cleaning products The majority know that vinegar and baking soda is a cheaper and safer alternative to most household cleaning products, but making it can seem like a big time commitment. Luckily, it’s not. For interested classes, Nicki sets aside time for parents to create their own cleaners together, and even provides the spray bottles! Making the products together shows parents how easy it is and helps them find an effective recipe. After several years of making the products collaboratively, Nicki continues to get lots of great feedback from parents. She estimates around half of the parents in her classes are now regularly making their own cleaning products!
Were there tools or resources that you used that were particularly helpful?
Both of these programs cost time and money. Nicki says it was hard to find the funding in her ECFE budget, so she found a grant through Hennepin County. Outside funding is critical for these programs, but the grants are few and far between. She hopes that the success of her reusable bags and household cleaners will show the school district that it is a worthwhile investment of resources so that she doesn’t need to rely on outside sources in the future.
Nicki says she gets the best results gathering information during class. She gathered data about the non-toxic cleaners in class and had a high rate of participation. For the mesh bags, she created a google forms survey, but few took the time to fill out the survey. Next time, Nicki will think about creating the pledge form in a different way. She could have parents write their class titles on the form instead of email addresses and survey them on paper in their classes, where she would likely get much better participation.
“The [Hennepin County] grant was such a gift!” Nicki says. Hopefully the ECFE program can get the same grant in the future or a new grant to help educate parents and their children on similar sustainability goals in their homes.
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