Amy Weber is a Colorado transplant to Champaign-Urbana, who came here to attend the University of Illinois for graduate school — and never left. A former librarian, Weber is never without a volunteer project, whether it was as an active member of the Junior League of Champaign-Urbana or working to help her children’s schools. Weber’s current focus is the building of a green schoolyard for Bottenfield Elementary in Champaign, a project she has spearheaded from the ideation phase through a capital fundraising campaign called “Love the Bee“. Weber is also a dedicated member of the Episcopal Church, where she has been singing in the Church choir for the past 17 years. She and her electrical engineer husband Jamie live with their three active children – two sons (4 and 6) and a daughter, 9 – in Champaign.
See why we think Amy Weber is a Chambana Mom to Know.
Q: Why is the PTA leading a campaign to get a new playground for Bottenfield Elementary, especially since the school was just remodeled last year?
The community passed a 1% county-wide sales tax to provide badly needed facilities upgrades. However the scope of the upgrades needed was enormous. The PTA learned in May of 2013 that there were no funds to upgrade the school’s playgrounds. The roll of the PTA is to facilitate partnerships between parents and the school to address unmet needs, such as upgrading inadequate and outdated playgrounds. So, we are taking action.
Q: What is unique about this project is the emphasis on a green playground. You did a lot of research on this topic, so why green?
The American Association of Public Health’s public policy statement “Improving Health and Wellness through Access to Nature” best captures the importance of this kind of project and the research behind it. The bottom line is that naturalized school yards foster “green activity” which is better for our kids’ health and emotional well-being.
A green or naturalized schoolyard fosters cooperative and collaborative play, reduces behavioral problems, improves performance on tasks that require sustained focus, and increases physical activity. The key to achieving this is to get away from our dependence on equipment, sod, and mulch by creating an outdoor environment that is more natural and biodiverse. Readers who are interested in seeing what this looks like can visit Champaign’s Porter Park (Rising Road and Windsor) or the all-natural playground in the Homer Lake Forest Preserve. We want to bring these innovations in to town where more kids can access them, and even better do so every day.
Q: What is the current state of the fundraising campaign and how can the community get involved?
Our project will replace the K-2 playground and vastly improve the grade 3-5 playground. The cost is approximately $110,000. We began with a quiet campaign to solicit advanced gifts and have raised about 80% of the funds needed. Having established a solid foundation upon which to build, we are now ready to open a broad-based public campaign called “Love the Bee” to help us reach the finish line. Our goal is to raise $20K this spring, but with 50% of our students receiving free and reduced lunches we will need some help from our community. We have developed a website, lovethebee.org, to share the project and provide a way for community members to give online.
Q: Why are you so (personally) passionate about this project?
I love this project because it addresses multiple bottom lines: enhance play, support education, benefit the environment, and build community. We will achieve our primary objective to replace or improve Bottenfield’s playgrounds, while supporting the great work our teachers are doing, being good environmental stewards and fostering future stewards, all the while giving back to our wonderful community which after all gave us our beautifully remodeled building.
Q: What have you learned about yourself throughout this process?
I’ve always believed in public education, but I didn’t realize just how intense my feelings are when it comes to doing everything we can for the kids in our schools. I had so many amazing educational experiences growing up, which has left me with a never-ending love of learning and an insatiable curiosity. I want very much to share this lifelong love of learning with our kids, and a great outdoor environment will nurture their natural curiosity about the world around them.
Q: What’s your favorite way to take time for yourself and why?
Well, I love reading, watching SNL re-runs, walking, and riding my bike. However, I’d have to say that volunteering is also something I do for myself as much as for those I serve. I can use my brain, learn new things, meet new people, and make a difference – it’s very fulfilling.
Q: What are your favorite things to do with your family in Champaign-Urbana (outside of the house)?
We enjoy our local parks and public pool; or if the weather is poor, the library and the children’s museum. We love eating out!
Q: Tell us something most people don’t know about you.
I started out in forensic anthropology. When I was in college I had a really wonderful opportunity to work on a study of about 300 skeletal remains discovered on the grounds of the Colorado Mental Health Institute (originally the Colorado Insane Asylum in the late 19th century). Seeing one real skeleton as an undergraduate would be notable. The opportunity to study a large sample of skeletal remains and learn first-hand about the breadth of human variability was exceptional!
Amy Weber was nominated to be a Chambana mom to know. Nominate a mom or dad today — it’s easy!