Community Voices - Linda Arbogast

Linda Arbogast is Executive Director of Oberlin Community Services. She lives in Brownhelm Township with her husband, Bo, and their three children on an organic blueberry farm. Both Linda and her husband were Peace Corps volunteers in Sri Lanka.

Linda Arbogast photo

Q: What word or image would you use to describe Oberlin?
A: Progressive. My kids go to school here, my husband and I work here, we definitely moved here because this is a unique place. To me, Oberlin has the mesh of Midwestern, hard working, down to Earth people, but at the same time there’s more of a progressive spirit, willing to look at new things both socially and environmentally and take them on in a way most Midwestern communities are more apprehensive to do. I thought Oberlin was a really nice mix of those things. We wanted to look for a place where our work would be fulfilling and especially the lives of our kids. I really appreciated as a kid having a lot of space and having animals and just being immersed in nature and wasn’t finding that on the east coast in any way that we could afford. It wasn’t where I wanted to raise my kids, so we found Oberlin. It’s not without its challenges but overall I do like it a lot and I think my kids are better for being here. The kids are learning a lot more than they would in a lot of other environments.

Q: What would your personal definition of sustainability be?

A: I would say that sustainability to me is doing things in your life that are in community with what’s around you, other people and nature. I appreciated how John Petersen talked about [in a presentation] how we used to have biofeedback in our daily lives and as a farmer you get that and it becomes such a part of your life. But western culture, we’re more industrialized and we lose part of that. To me sustainability is being one in your environment, being a part of it in that your actions have responses and nature affects you.

Q: If you think about Oberlin Community Services, would that change your definition of sustainability?

A: It’s a challenging topic when you’re looking at low-income people and the work that we do. On the one hand, we give emergency assistance so somebody comes in and they’re in crisis, our job is to help them get through their crisis. We’ll pay somebody’s electric bill; we’ll pay somebody’s rent. But at the same time, we are trying to find ways to be more proactive because we try to help people realize where they might be able to cut down. There are all sorts of things that happen to people’s houses, some are within their control, some are not. We still want to be proactive and educate people about how they could cut that use and help them prioritize in a way that’s not patronizing because people have choices and people make choices. We work with POWER closely, as it used to be housed here, and our caseworker helps people fill out applications to get involved with POWER.

We are also becoming more involved with organic gardening and we have a really great an organic garden in the back. It started small and has grown immensely over the last few years. We got an award this last year for it and we are really pleased, a countywide award. The idea of the garden, though, is so people have more fresh produce, to improve the quality of the food that we offer people, but also have people understand more about food, especially kids. So as people are getting groceries, we’ll say, “Oh there’s a lot of cucumbers out there, why don’t you go help yourself?” and even just harvesting is a start. The next time we try to increase their involvement to weeding and watering and kids come in regularly on a drop-in basis. A lot of people talk about starting with kids and how important that is. It really is amazing to me how many adults, young adults, even in their twenties, say, “You can make tomato sauce with these tomatoes? How would you even do that?” just really have no idea.

We’re working with OSU extension, we have classes that we are giving in the evenings, nutrition and cooking, and before our food distributions that we have once a month, we have cooking demonstrations to show people how to use the food they get. There’s become kind of fun and there’s been a core group of people who come early to come and do that. Constantly trying to be proactive, but how can we help people in a more sustainable way that will help them in the long run?

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Anita Peebles is a 3rd year Religion and Environmental Studies major from Eaton Rapids, Michigan. She is a Bonner Leader, a member of the Interfaith Student Council and a co-leader of Girls in Motion.



Photographer Info: Yvette Chen is a photographer for the Dashboard Project who is interested in the power of media and images. Originally from Princeton Junction, New Jersey, Yvette is a first year student at Oberlin College planning to study sociology and economics. Other than photography, in her spare time, she enjoys cooking and running through Ohio's rural landscapes.

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Guest March 15, 2017

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Anita Peebles
Anita Peebles is a 3rd year Religion and Environmental Studies major from Eaton
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