COLLEGE PARK – It’s 10 a.m. and Laurel Imlay is standing in the middle of Sierra Club Headquarters here, trying to figure out what to do first. The phone rings.
She answers it and jots down a quick note.
A volunteer walks in and reminds her to make copies at Kinko’s. A man sticks his head in the door to ask if the dentist’s office next door is open.
The phone rings — someone asking her about making copies of fliers.
Imlay remembers she has to get pictures developed before making copies. She’s immediately reminded the nearby one-hour photo is broken so she’ll have to take the film elsewhere.
The phone rings.
You would think for a woman who once made a living picking tomatoes in Australia and who studied yoga in India, the day-to-day tasks of working in an office would be mundane, even if the office is the Maryland headquarters of the Sierra Club, one of the nation’s most high-profile environmental organizations.
For Imlay, she is just working toward the greater good of helping to revitalize the community where she grew up.
“There’s so much to do I’m never bored,” she explained, taking a moment to sit in between tasks. “I have this job where I’m actually doing something that’s good. There are so many people who have these jobs and their heart is not in it.”
Imlay is the office manager at Maryland HQ, a small room in a College Park shopping center. From there fliers get designed, phone calls get made, and every major campaign to stop sprawl or save trees is developed.
Imlay handles the details of the campaigns, plus she often attends meetings of other community environmental meetings.
Four times a year, 13,900 copies of the newsletter are mailed out. And each day, she says she spends a couple of hours on e-mail, usually urging action on issues.
The best part about her job, Imlay says, is working with all the different people she meets.
The Sierra Club decided to move its Maryland headquarters to College Park in 1998 because thousands of college students, who often are active in environmental movements, live close by. Since then, Imlay has developed a good relationship with many faculty, some of whom let their students volunteer there for extra credit.
“One of my favorite things is to reach out to people,” Imlay said. “These kids are getting experiences that are just so great. They are doing things they would never do.”
For example, many students go to Metro stations and pass out fliers promoting the Purple Line. “They’re getting more brave for volunteering here.”
“Laurel is a wonderful girl. She enthuses people. She’s energetic,” said Penelope Koines, a University of Maryland professor whose students volunteer for Imlay. “Laurel will try to give (students) a sense of purpose for why we’re doing what we’re doing.”
Imlay still sees students as being the largest instigator for change.
“When you have a family you become less of a risk-taker,” she said. “Students are generally more idealistic.”
Students are only one part of the powerful Sierra Club lobby. Every year they push hard for many pieces of environmental legislation, mobilizing their 15,000 members statewide to call or write their elected officials about issues.
Imlay is armed with Sierra Club propaganda wherever she goes. Last week, she asked some highway workers on the roadside for directions and thanked them each with a copy of the most recent club newsletter.
The single mother in her mid-40s does appreciate the flexibility in her hours so she can spend as much time as possible with her 7-year-old son, Elian, whose father lives in France.
“I’m always trying to balance his needs and my needs,” she said.
For Imlay, working for or with the environment was just something she grew up around. Her grandfather, who worked on oil rigs in Mexico, used to matter-of- factly tell his grandchildren that in a few years they were going to run out of oil or coal. Imlay believed him because he was seeing it all firsthand.
Her parents were involved in the Sierra Club when she was growing up. The Bowie High School graduate’s favorite family times came from enjoying the same environment her parents worked to protect.
“We would go on collecting trips. I’d help him (father) collect snails and clams,” she explained.
Her family moved to Missouri, so she went to college there for a year, but she wanted to return. She did and finished her degree at the University of Maryland.
Mary Marsh, spokeswoman for the Maryland Conservation Council, a coalition of environmental groups from which the Sierra Club is a member, appreciates Imlay’s talents with the grassroots.
“Laurel knows where to find those folks and can get them to speak out on the environment,” Marsh said. “Laurel knows how to work with volunteers.”