In other people’s trash, Natalie Jakub sees treasure, hope and possibility.
The new executive director of Green Living Science is hopeful that more Detroiters will commit to recycling and embrace other efforts to make our city environmentally sustainable.
She knows it’s a big job – and education is key.
“We have already seen a big impact with the curbside recycling program in Detroit,” says Natalie, who serves as chair of the Recycling and Waste Reduction subcommittee of Detroit City Council's Green Task Force. “The program started in 2015 with just 11% of residents participating. We’ve upped that number to over 26% – and we’re looking forward to increasing the numbers even more in the year ahead.”
While Natalie’s role is new, she is not new to Green Living Science. During her graduate studies through Eastern Michigan University, Natalie joined the GLS team in 2013 as part of a 2-year AmeriCorps VISTA program. When our nonprofit’s program director position opened in 2015, she jumped at the opportunity. Her newest role, leading our organization, is a natural next step and a perfect fit.
Natalie, 31, lives in Detroit but grew up in Taylor. Her passion for sustainable living took root long before brightly colored recycling bins lined residential streets and school hallways.
She recalls when her family got its first recycling bin as part of Taylor’s fledgling recycling program. She was in middle school at the time.
“I remember we got tagged for putting something in there that we shouldn’t have and from there I was always very conscious about what my family was putting in our recycling bin,” she says.
Natalie’s leadership skills also emerged early on. When her peers at Taylor’s John F. Kennedy High School were tossing pop cans and plastic water bottles in the trash, she took recycling into her own hands.
“In school, we didn’t have a recycling program at all, so I would be the one to take everybody’s pop bottles and water bottles home with me,” she recalls.
And, as you can imagine, she had quite a haul.
In college, Natalie’s passion for the environment really started to blossom.
During her sophomore year at EMU in Ypsilanti, Natalie joined the GREEN (Gathering Resources to Educate about our Environment and Nature) program on campus, eventually becoming the group’s student coordinator.
“That’s where (environmental issues) became a big passion and something I knew I would want to pursue,” she says.
Natalie graduated from EMU in 2010 with a bachelor’s in business administration and marketing – a degree she believed would serve her well in whatever career path she’d take.
“You can market anything – a product, an organization -- so I felt that would be beneficial for me no matter where I chose to go,” Natalie says, “but I always had my master’s program pamphlet in my back pocket.”
It wasn’t long before that pamphlet proved useful.
Natalie’s first post-college job at Ann Arbor-based Energy Works Michigan vanished when the state pulled the plug on the nonprofit’s program funding. It was a tough blow for Natalie, who enjoyed collaborating with schools across the state on energy efficiency and renewable energy initiatives, and it set the foundation for her decision to return to school to pursue her master’s in EcoJustice Education.
As the program director for Green Living Science, she oversaw our Bee Green Business program and the curbside recycling program with the city.
“When our executive director said she was leaving, I had already been working alongside her on much of the work she had done so it made sense for me to step into that role based on the knowledge I had obtained,” she says.
At the helm of GLS for nearly 7 months, Natalie has a full plate:
She works with GLS board on budgetary matters; she works with our small but mighty staff to ensure we’re adhering to our mission, and she cultivates relationships with key community and business groups and donors.
The best part? “I get to work with awesome people,” says Natalie. “I just love coming to work.”
As she settles into her leadership role, Natalie remains focused on growth and a bright future.
“Right now we are a small staff trying to do a lot with a little and we’re making a great impact with schools, businesses and the community,” Natalie says. “But, I look forward to helping our program grow even larger to make the biggest possible impact through the work we are doing – now, and for Detroit’s greener, more sustainable future.”