Changing the world one step at a time

By on September 28, 2005

Dr. Rick Asselta has a reason to be angry. After spending time in the Marshall Islands as a Peace Corps volunteer, Asselta contracted cancer. However, instead of focusing on his misfortune, he took action. Many years and surgeries later, Asselta is now a wheelchair marathon racer and also the coordinator of university and college programs for the Roots & Shoots program.

Roots & Shoots, which was started by Jane Goodall, is a global program for students of all ages based around community service and service learning.

Asselta is also a professor at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, Conn. Asselta spoke to the Quinnipiac Roots & Shoots chapter, Monday Sept. 19.

Quinnipiac started a Roots & Shoots chapter last semester. Asselta said that the Roots & Shoots program is a way for all people to make a difference.

“[Roots & Shoots] is a real way for people to make a change in this world. It’s not abstract,” Asselta said. “An impact doesn’t mean you have to change the whole world.”

After telling the story of how he first met Goodall while he was recovering from cancer, Asselta said how excited he was that Quinnipiac has joined the Roots & Shoots family.

“You have opportunities and with those come responsibility,” Asselta said.

Asselta explained how Roots & Shoots began when a group of 16 students in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, asked Dr. Jane Goodall how they could change what was happening in Tanzania.

“They were sitting in Jane’s yard,” Asselta said. “And basically saying, ‘we can’t stand what’s happening to our country.'” Those students, along with help from Jane created Roots & Shoots. Asselta explained how the main concept of the program is based on the idea that a small plant can break through a concrete wall, thus creating stronger roots and shoots.

“That wall is ignorance and war and greed and stupidity,” Asselta said. “One thousand plants can become a forest.” There are now over 7000 Roots & Shoots chapters in 92 countries. “Every one of you is a plant,” Asselta said.

Goodall will be speaking at Quinnipiac on Oct. 28 as the keynote speaker at the Albert Schweitzer Institute sponsored conference; Humanitarianism Throughout the World: The Life, Ideas and Enduring Legacy of Dr. Albert Schweitzer from Oct. 28-29.

Asselta explained how Goodall is an inspiration to all.

“Five minutes after meeting her you will feel that you’ve known her your whole life,” Asselta said.

Asselta spoke of an upcoming conference at Western Connecticut State University that will bring together Roots & Shoots chapters from universities such as Columbia, Yale, UCONN, and New York University, as well as Quinnipiac. The conference will allow students to share similar ideas helping the world to collaborate these thoughts.

“We all become custodians of this planet,” Asselta said.

The Quinnipiac chapter of Roots & Shoots, which was started last semester by senior Stefanie Avery, has been working to make a difference on campus and in the community. The students have been working together with Dunkin Donuts and Chartwells to donate food to local soup kitchens and food banks. The students will also be volunteering at an animal shelter in North Haven.

For more information about joining Roots & Shoots at Quinnipiac, email Stefanie Avery at Stefanie.


About Erin Peck