Spreading the Health: Robin Sidman Organ 95

Robin Sidman Organ ’95 is creating healthy learning environments for children, one school at a time.  by Khrista Trerotola ’07

“What’s she’s creating now,” says Linda Salamone, “will be with people forever — and she’s just on the tip of the iceberg.”

Salamone is talking about Robin Sidman Organ ’95, and what Robin is creating is healthier learning environments for Boston-area students and teachers. Salamone, a nurse and health educator with Robin’s newly founded nonprofit organization, Greenschools, is helping her accomplish that.

In June 2002, after teaching English, drama, and public speaking since graduation and having two children with her husband, Greg Organ, Robin found herself becoming hypersensitive to almost everything — pets, trees, mold, dust, many foods and chemicals, even her own bed. And her two young daughters were suffering from similar problems. After numerous rounds of testing — skin tests, blood tests, and food intake monitoring — Robin and her daughters identified their allergies. “Now we have answers,” says Robin, “and know how to keep our immune systems strong.”

Robin decided to educate others and help create healthy places for all children. “She could have stopped after creating a healthy environment for her own family,” Salamone points out, “and it would have been much easier. But she didn’t. She’s educating people to save their lives.”

At first Robin started a local TPED (the Project to End Disease) chapter in her Boston suburb, educating people to take control of their own health. TPED teaches the concept of “two causes of one disease,” as explained in Never Be Sick Again, a book by Raymond Francis with Kester Cotton. Robin wanted to involve children more, but TPED said it would be unable to focus on children for a few years. So last July, Robin took it upon herself — and started Greenschools.

A big chunk of children’s lives is spent in school, and school environments can have a huge impact on kids’ health. Greenschools aims to make schools less toxic and more conducive to good health. “Robin’s an advocate for our little guys who have no say about the environment they’re in,” Salamone says.

The program looks not only at the physical space, but also at individuals’ bodies as environments to be cared for. Greenschools specifically addresses issues relating to indoor air quality, healthy food habits and nutrition, reducing waste, reusing items, and recycling. Going green and creating a healthy environment simply go together. Harsh cleaning chemicals get into our water and then into our bodies. And those chemicals cause allergic reactions. So why use them?

Creating a healthy school, says Robin, is looking at “all aspects that touch the lives of the kids and adults in the building — indoor air quality, cleaning, eliminating waste. Rather than having separate initiatives, like recycling and nutrition, we make the connection.”

Greenschools provides initial consultations, and then will create a plan — sometimes over the course of two or three years — catering to the school’s specific goals. Services include educating staff on healthier cleaning products, teaching kids how to pack a waste-free lunch, speaking at PTA meetings about creating a healthy home, presenting to an auditorium of students about healthy and green choices, and helping high schoolers create an eco-friendly fashion show.

“To make it an initiative,” Robin says, “you have to touch everyone” — not just administrators, but faculty, students, and parents as well. “One-time public speaking just doesn’t do it.”

“I never thought I would draw this much on my Ithaca background,” says Robin, who majored in speech communication and teacher education and minored in English. “What I’m doing now is 100 percent based on my experience there. Ithaca gave me confidence, public speaking skills, and communication and education training. And I’ve always had this environmentally-conscious drive.”

Speech communication professors Laurie Arliss and Bruce Henderson stand out in her mind. Henderson pushed her to perform out of her comfort zone. And as adviser, mentor, and professor, Arliss showed Robin how her dual majors, combined with electives such as drama and public speaking, would serve well in reaching her goal of teaching English. 

“Greenschools,” says Robin, “is the culmination of [my training in] speech communication and education, directing plays, getting sick, and being a parent of two young children who have suffered.”

Other Ithaca alumni play a role in Greenschools: Chris Temper ’95 assists with the nonprofit’s video production as a freelancer; and for its first fund-raising gala, Caryn Sowa ’88, a regular volunteer with Greenschools, helped Robin plan the event, Chris Simpson ’96 deejayed, and Jen Mastafiak Caron ’95 created and donated pottery for an auction.

Greenschools is currently establishing chapters across the nation. The organization is obviously filling a need: “It took off faster than we were expecting,” Robin says.

“Robin has a true passion for teaching others about the environment and how it can severely affect one’s health,” says Christine Mader, vice president of Greenschools. “There’s a tremendous need to make the public aware of what’s in the food we eat and air we breathe, and the ways we are adding to the destruction of our planet. Robin’s mission needs to be embraced for the benefit of all.”

“The more people she reaches, the more energy she seems to have,” Salamone adds. “It just fuels her. Even when she’s wiped out.”