Lifestyles Spotlight

Lifestyle Spotlight: Athens Community Awareness Network looks to empower community, improve lives

By Emily Smith, CG News

Athens Community Awareness Network is working towards a more sustainable future through facilitating increased cooperation between southeast Ohio prosocial and environmental organizations and area residents.  The group was started by Jamie Betit, a freelance fitness trainer in Athens, Ohio.  Betit hopes to “empower people on a local level to make them feel like they’re making changes.”

Betit began with the goal of reducing local waste streams through trash hikes.  Trash collected from the hikes will be used to create artwork to further awareness of the organization.  Near the end of October there will be a play performed at a yet unannounced venue that will incorporate the collected trash into the costumes and scenery.

Emilie Walker picking up trash on Union Street. Photo by Brandon Labonte.

Betit says, “You don’t think about where your garbage goes, the problems it creates, the energy it consumes, or the environmental impact.” 

The hikes are just one way Betit hopes to strengthen the bond between Athens’ varied residents and how they connect with their city.

He says, “people need an active relationship with their community and to take pride in it.”

Athens C.A.N. has begun to collaborate with like-minded organizations and programs in Athens to work towards their vision.

Among these ancillary initiatives is Feed the Peaceful, a new weekly free meal.  The Monday dinner began four weeks ago.  The founder of the meal is Athens resident Brandon Labonte who hopes to create a sanctuary where students and area residents can nourish themselves while becoming enabled to make a difference in their lives.

Labonte says, “Feed the Peaceful is a way to escape the stress of monetary restriction and segregatory implication while dining in an educational and family setting.”

In addition to live music some evenings, each meal will welcome a representative from an environmental or prosocial group.

Ohio University film school alumni Pradeep Edussuriya spoke at the inaugural dinner.  Edussuriya is a producer for People and Land Media, a segment of the National Network of Forest Practitioners.  He played three short documentary videos about the efforts of the NNFP.  The videos paralleled the goals of Athens C.A.N.  NNFP empowers regular people by helping them to profit from the sale of trees on their property but in a conscious and sustainable manner.  In one video, a woman from Bayfield, Wisconsin recounts how she felt powerless when the first logging company she hired began to destroy her land.  NNFP, on the other hand, worked with her to help her feel comfortable about the decision she had made.  C.A.N. aims to give the citizens of Athens a voice in their community, making them feel that they can make changes they want to see around them, not feel silenced and powerless.

Betit feels the Monday night meals are at the catalyst behind C.A.N.’s ultimate goals. LaBonte says he wants “collaboration with people to take on this larger task to better the area and increase the quality of life.”

To further their mission, Athens C.A.N. has developed The Synergy Calendar – a regularly updated listing of weekly events and Athens groups who share the vision of local empowerment.  The calendar can be viewed on their blog.

Aside from lending a hand to Athens C.A.N., LaBonte encourages people to implement changes in their own lives by taking charge of their own initiatives or doing such simple things going on trash hikes in their neighborhood and repurposing materials.

LaBonte says, “Through the Community Awareness Network, we are asserting a more just process of progression by allowing unrestricted self expression from each citizen within the county.”

The Community Awareness Network was formed under the philosophy that individuals have the power to be the difference they seek for this world.

To get involved, email Athens C.A.N. at