Nov 27 - Amy Hammes: My CNN Hero (Guest Post)

One of my favorite and most motivational stories is of the boy who threw the beached starfish one by one back into the ocean--an overwhelming task:

Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so oftenand as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, "Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?"
The young boy paused, looked up, and replied "Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves," the youth replied. "When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water."
The old man replied, "But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference."
The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, "It made a difference to that one!"

Adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley (1907 - 1977)

Starfish 02 (paulshaffner)

Meet Chad Pregracke

I want to introduce you to an amazing "starfish thrower" who has been inspiration to me for 15 years and was one of the reasons I decided to start picking up starfish myself. When people say "one person CAN'T make a difference," they haven't met Chad Pregracke.

Chad is actually from my hometown area of the Quad Cities. He grew up as a "river rat" diving for clams along the Mississippi River. The river, like many in the US, had become the alternative to the city dump. He grew tired of seeing all the debris dumped into the river--things like tires, fridges and oil barrels, and when he was 17 decided to start cleaning it up. Here he was, a determined kid on a lonely mission to quit complaining and actually DO SOMETHING on his own with no fanfare. He borrowed his father's fishing boat and set out to clean up as much as he could.

One day turned into another, then another and by the end of the summer he had burned through two motors and countless debris. Although he hadn't made much of a dent in cleaning the litter, he knew he had found his life's work. Luckily, his example soon prompted others to join him and even more starfish were saved! One person did indeed make a difference with that first voyage.

After very humble beginnings, 15 years later, he runs one of the largest and most productive river clean up organizations in the country, Living Lands and Waters. He and his 10 person crew spend 9 months a year living on a working barge (now THAT is commitment!) cleaning up not only the Mississippi, but the Missouri and other regional waterways. They also host 160 volunteer river clean ups a year.

Chad was just named CNN Hero of 2013 and I couldn't be more proud to know this Quad City hometown hero. His organization won over $250,000 for the award. But being the incredibly generous and humble person that he is, Chad is giving each of the other 9 nominees $10k of his prize money for their worthy causes.

I worked with Chad years ago when he was a very young, determined and positive force that wanted our local radio station to help promote a fund raising party and river awareness event. I have watched and admired his tenacity and success, resulting in various news features on his story. His mission over the years continues to be a driving force in my own mission today. I am so happy that he showed me and many others what it is like to listen to your heart and take that first step--even when others tell you it won't make a difference.

Meet Chad--this is from a few years ago with Mike Rowe of the television show: Dirty Jobs.

Watch Chad’s nomination video for CNN’s Heros.

Continue your mission. Be inspired everyday by even the little actions and wins despite overwhelming odds, others' apathy and your own doubts. Keep throwing those starfish back in the ocean because it makes a difference to each one. Eventually a true movement does happen!


Amy Hammes is the Donations Director for EcoSet Consulting-- a five year old Zero Waste firm in Los Angeles that helps major national advertisers, including Target, Subaru, Microsoft and Campbells Soup, become more environmentally responsible while filming their commercials. Nearly two thirds of EcoSet’s 93% diversion rate comes from REUSE, thus proving that discarded set materials can be given a new life through coordinated donation opportunities within the local community.


Photos courtesy Living Lands and Waters and Paul Shaffner, via Wikimedia Commons.