Groundskeeper impacts sustainability program

Luisa Garza expresses her love for nature as she poses beside a colorful, blossoming plant. Photo credit: Dominique Diaz

An activist and lead groundskeeper has been involved in politics, local projects and is one of the main people responsible for the annual Diversion Excursion on campus.

Luisa Garza started the Diversion Excursion program 14 years ago. The program has allowed students to donate and recycle items, which has reduced the amount of waste in the local landfill. The program has worked with A.S. Recycling and other campus organizations.

Universities such as UC Berkeley and Sonoma State have contacted Garza to model their own programs after Diversion Excursion. She’s even spoken at several sustainability conferences.

“I’m just wired that way to be involved in something,” Garza said.

She’s been able to educate people on the environment and how to protect it.

“This program brings all of that together by showing young people what is trash, what is recycling and what is reusable goods,” Garza said.

Garza’s most memorable event was the second Diversion Excursion. That’s when she knew it was going to work.

“Everything came together really well,” Garza said. “Students responded in a positive way. My department responded in a positive way.”

Since its start, the program has diverted over 200,000 pounds of waste and each year that number increases.

One thing Garza likes about the program is the amount of students that volunteer.

“I think that speaks volumes about the caliber of the people that are attending Chico State,” Garza said. “I’ve had volunteers come years in a row until they graduate.”

Justin Flick, a first-year international economics major and co-coordinator of the program, is one of those volunteers.

He discussed how the project has been important to him because the result could lessen the environmental impact.

“When we send things out to the landfills, it’s terrible for the environment because it’s just decomposing,” Flick said. “A lot of people don’t seem to understand that a lot of what they consider trash is either A: reusable or B: recyclable.”

Flick has been working closely with Garza on this project to ensure its success.

“She’s put in so much work into it and she’s so passionate about this program so it’s definitely been cool to work with her,” he said.

With Garza’s involvement on and off campus, she’s been able to influence those around her.

“If they need mentoring, I can mentor them,” Garza said. “If they need a parent, I can parent them. If they need a strong role model to be a better employee, I can mentor them in that. And I’ve seen some people through some really hard times.”

For her activism efforts in the community, Garza has received a Maggie Award, a Governor’s Employee Safety Award and the Paul Maslin Environmental Stewardship Award.

“These are my values,” she said. “I care about the campus, I care about safety and I care about women and human rights.”

Garza will be retiring in December and knows that the program will continue to grow and make an impact. Throughout her 30 years she’s watched Chico’s landscape grow and change.

“A beautiful landscape, that’s what I want to leave behind, that touches people’s hearts,” Garza said.

Dominique Diaz can be reached at [email protected] or @dominiqueldiaz on Twitter.