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Grassroots organizing seeds growth of Petaluma nonprofit Daily Acts
Still reeling from the national shock wave of 9/11, Heckman lost his mother a month later and decided to dramatically change the direction of his life.
His a-ha moment occurred later that year at the Permaculture Institute of Northern California in Point Reyes Station, where he was astounded to see how land could be transformed from lawn into a “fecund forest of food, medicine and wonder.”
It just “sort of rewired me,” he said. “Wow, you really can change the world with a garden. You can build ecosystems that can transform people’s lives and save resources and even change policy.”
But that was just the beginning for Heckman, 46, who had read Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and was impressed by the concept of working within one’s circle of influence.
“The core belief of Daily Acts is that by reclaiming the power of our daily actions, we can transform ourselves, our homes, our gardens and our neighborhoods,” he said. “When we work together and leverage our power, we can transform our communities and the world beyond.”
Heckman describes the organization’s goal as infusing a “sense of heart and community and connection” so that people feel they’re “being a part of work that matters and makes a real difference.”
The power of that bond took on a new urgency in the days after Donald Trump was elected president. Daily Acts became a gathering place for people worried about the future of the planet in light of a new political climate.
“A number of volunteers felt like they just had to be here,” Heckman said. “Especially now, we are getting a number of calls and emails (from people) breathing a sigh of relief that we are here and doing what we do,” he said.
“We get that in general, but even more now that we’ve got people concerned about where our future is going.”
At Daily Acts, the answers are simple: “Start with the only power we have, which is the power of our daily actions,” he said.
“Be concerned about all the things on the planet, but spend most of your time in your circle of influence, and your circle of influence will grow.”
Heckman breaks that message down into three main components.
The first is solutions for sustainable living.
“We help people grow food, save water, reduce waste, build soil and reduce resource consumption while building local self-reliance and resilience.”
Second is self-care and personal leadership.
“Life is difficult, and sometimes people are struggling just figuring out how to make it through the day, the week, the month and are worried about their finances.
“It would be easy to run yourself ragged trying to take care of everything else in the world,” he said, but the group encourages its staff and volunteers to get enough rest and keep a good mindset and attitude by practicing meditation, for example.
Third is civic engagement — volunteering, supporting green business, showing up at city council meetings.
“We are looking at how to get more healthy, just, resilient and sustainable communities,” Heckman said.
Daily Acts encourages people to work within their schools and churches, and go to city council and board of supervisors meetings “where our fate is being decided.”
Heckman cited Margaret Mead’s famous comment: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Through groups such as Daily Acts, Heckman said, “we can build movements around that thinking so you’re doing your local work around your home and neighborhood, city and county, and you’re linking up with others who are doing work regionally around the state or nationally.”
He emphasized the impact of individuals’ decisions, from what you buy to whether you volunteer.
“Those things reach across the planet every day,” he said.
In sum, whether it’s helping someone learn about how to recapture gray water or showing teens how volunteering can make a difference, Daily Acts’ goals are “being the change we wish to see in the world” and “following nature’s operating instructions,” Heckman said.
“Practicing sustainable living solutions can help you reclaim your power and regenerate your connections with people and nature.”