Care2 Member Spotlight: Shelby Rodriguez - Mom on a Mission
Jan 4, 2010
When toxic fumes from a neighborhood roof-tarring project started impacting the health of her daughter, Shelby Rodriguez sprang into action. A self described "stay at home Mom" at the time, Shelby took on the housing development with her "No More Tar Roofs" campaign - successfully halting the project and forcing them to switch to a more eco-friendly solution. Shelby's story has since been published in People Magazine, the Sacramento News & Review, and Lifetime's "Remarkable Women" series. In addition, Shelby was awarded the first annual Mom on a Mission award from Healthy Child, Healthy World.
I recently had the opportunity to ask her about her campaign:
RP: What motivated you to take action to stop the roofing project? SR: My motivation for fighting the roofing tar project was my daughter, Elise (age 5). I had been diagnosed with intermittent asthma and was put on inhalers after being exposed to the tar fumes for several months. The symptoms I had were nose sores, twitching lungs, constant coughing, fatigue, nausea, difficulty breathing, and asthma.
I was living in fear. We couldn’t play outside, and I was forced to tape my door shut and close off air intakes, etc. On several occasions, the inside of our house was filled with fumes so badly that and I had to put a mask over Elise and leave the area to breathe. When Elise told me she had a sore throat I went into a productive panic because one of my first symptoms was a sore throat too. Finding out that the project was for three years and knowing that we had limited options financially I knew that I could not sit by and be a victim anymore. Elise deserved a safe place to live.
RP: What did you do to get the project stopped? (and how did you know what to do?) SR: The first step in getting the project stopped was to research and learn everything I could about the project and the product. Once I knew what and who I was up against I began making contacts within the community, local government, the US EPA, grassroots organizations, and the Air Quality District to plead my case. In addition, I needed to find an alternative to asphalt roofing tar so that I was asking for a change that was actually realistic. The people I was asking help from respected that because I wasn’t just complaining; I had found a doable solution to the problem.
I actually didn’t know what to do! But I was very persistent and never took no for an answer. My first strategy was to try and force the Carmel Partners (owners of the community) to change to the alternative “cool” roof system. I learned that no one in local government was going to help me force them to stop because what they were doing was actually legal; so I had to change my strategy.
The combination of several things helped me change the project. I received great advice from helpful allies along with media attention. In addition, the help from the US EPA through their TASC (Technical Assistance Services for Communities) was a huge win for the community. I also had the backing from SAQMD (Air Quality District). They are the governing agency and very kindly informed the owners of the repercussions should they use asphalt roofing tar and have the community fight back with the public nuisance law. I would say that was the ultimate reason the Carmel Partners opted to try the “Cool” roofs instead. I think it made sense to them to choose an easier route rather than to move forward against such opposition. It was a gamble, but I wasn’t going to give up.
RP: What was the biggest lesson you learned from your experience? SR: The biggest lesson I learned was the power of one person to influence change. I was nearly discouraged so many times by people, who meant well, but who tried to squash my momentum by pointing out I was alone in my quest. They told me to give up for the sake of my own sanity, to know my place as a middle-class woman with no influence in our society. But the truth is, when you have the facts, and are truly dedicated and passionate, eventually others will take notice and positive changes can happen no matter who you are.
RP: Why did you choose Care2 for your petition? SR: I learned about Care2 when the Sierra Club helped me author the No More Tar Roofs petition. I knew I needed to have a place online where people could sign the petition even if they hadn’t met with me in person.
What I like most about Care2 is the community of people taking action on issues that are important to them. It helps bring awareness to issues not covered in the media, which is extremely empowering for the everyday person out there who knows change needs to happen but could feel powerless otherwise.
It’s based on the idea that one person can make a difference, which is what I’m all about! I love that when I visit the site I’m shown petitions to sign, there are blogs to read, and there is other good work to participate in. It was a positive influence in my community, throughout the country, and hopefully will be the catalyst for the human movement needed the help save the world for future generations.
RP: If Care2 members have similar environmental health concerns in their neighborhood, what would you recommend they do? SR: My advice to others would be to pace yourself, know your stuff, make a reasonable plan, and don’t let your emotions overpower your will to succeed.
Do your homework— If you know who and what you’re up against you are more likely to succeed.
Create a flyer to hand out with a site they can visit with more information online. Also create a paper version and an online petition to document and empower others to join in on your cause.
Don’t just complain. Find an alternative to the problem in your community and mention it at every opportunity.
Find allies and contacts for advice and to spread your story.
Don’t be afraid to hit the pavement and respectfully knock on doors and talk to your neighbors to find out if they are having symptoms too. You can find help with your campaign that way and it also helps in knowing you’re not alone.
Write, call, and attend public meetings to get the attention of your local government or other local activist.
Don’t stop there. In my case the Federal Government was helpful as well.
Sometimes, you’ll need to bypass the staff and go directly to the person at the top of the organization or public office. You’d be surprised at how helpful the big wigs can be if contacted directly.
Take notes about advice and contacts. Contact everyone you’re directed to call. You never know who will be the right contact. I was able to get on the news because one of my new contacts knew a news reporter.
Be passionate, but calm and factual.
Make sure everything you say or write is true to the best of your knowledge. Sometimes retaliation comes in the form of threats of lawsuits for defamation or libel by your opponent. As long as you can prove that you thought what you said was true at the time you said it they will lose (and they know that too).
Know your rights about freedom of speech. Talk to the local police to make sure they know about your campaign or any threats you’ve received, and so that you know the rules about campaigning on public and private property.
Just don’t give up!
You will hear more “No’s” than” Yes’s” during your campaign. Just know that people are used to business as usual. They have a job duty and protocol but when moved to act because of your enthusiasm and dedication they may eventually decide to help you. Just remember that in the confrontation between the rock and the stream, the stream always wins—not through strength but through persistence.
RP: Congratulations Shelby, and thank you for your courage, tenacity and for being such an inspiration!
Watch Shelby's story, below, as told during the Healthy Child, Healthy World award ceremony where she was named their first annual "Mom on a Mission."
Tuesday January 5, 2010, 1:32 am
Tar is a petroleum product and is just one of a list of 'permissinble' pollutants. My congratulations to Shelby of taking this action, its' one many of us have not thought of.
Tuesday January 5, 2010, 2:18 am
Every time I read or hear of people like Shelby taking time to care enough to help not only her daughter but everyone in her community I am moved to think the world still has a chance - thank you for lifting my spirits today.
Tuesday January 5, 2010, 2:32 am
I have worked on tar roofs in the past, back in the 1980,s. They are very dangerous to peoples health. The Fumes from the hot tar are bad to the lungs, and Respatory areas. I back this Petition one hundred per cent.
Tuesday January 5, 2010, 2:56 am
it ios great to read about these kind of post.It shows when you take action,it pays of
Well done Shelby
*wishing you a wonderful,healthy 2010!*
]Care2 is an amazing place because of the members and C2 ofcourse!
Keep it up@!
Tuesday January 5, 2010, 3:35 am
Thank you for your persistence Shelby. It is people like you, working to save one place at a time, that will save the planet. If every community had someone like you this would be a better world.
Tuesday January 5, 2010, 3:41 am
What a great example Shelby has shown us of how her persistence and tenacity helped not only her family but her community. She is a great example of not giving up when you have a problem with the system.
Tuesday January 5, 2010, 3:44 am
randy, thanks for bringing this to our attention...shelby, i am so proud of you...yours is a very inspirational story and proves that every one of us can make a difference...we really can change things...thank you
Tuesday January 5, 2010, 5:22 am
This is a wonderful example of how realistic use of facts and resources can accomplish what unintelligible, incoherent ranting will not. We must present ourselves as determined; but calm, intelligent and credible opponents to environmental problems if we want to be taken seriously. Congratulations, Shelby!
Tuesday January 5, 2010, 5:25 am
Edward Janus | Disability Advocate and Activist (Disabled myself).
Doing Daily Internet Activism for Supporting Causes of Change. Signing Letters, Petitions, and Sharing News.
Founder: www.EdwardJanus.net | Disability Network Connections.
You learned of a hazard that really ment something to you, and took action. Thank you for your persistence also Shelby.
Tuesday January 5, 2010, 5:28 am
I didn't actually realise that builders were still using these materials and that they could have such an affect on people. I hope that with our help with petitions etc that these builders can be convinced not to use these materials any longer. There are much better ways to build a roof. Flat roof's have many other problems, like leaking etc and should be banned. I wish you and your family the very best.
Tuesday January 5, 2010, 6:52 am
you go girl !!!!! its all about the commitment we all make to the challenge of big companys and progress, they don't think we can ever defeat them its all about the money these days and the goverment should have a better handle on this but they dont. Unfortunately we all have to pay with our health and warfare if we as a people would stand up against the goverment we could get alot more done glad u won for now but how many other communities are going through this and we don't know it ????
Tuesday January 5, 2010, 7:23 am
Congratulations Shelby! I am glad to hear that a petition here at Care2 was helpful to you in getting the builders to substitute a more healthy alternative in roofing material.
Tuesday January 5, 2010, 7:25 am
Where I was working at the time, the company was having their roof tarred. The project lasted 4 weeks. By that time we (all employees) were so sick with burning noses, eyes and throats and also had a bad cough.
Tuesday January 5, 2010, 7:53 am
Looks like the main way through opposition is perseverance and not taking no for an answer. My mum always says that you've already got as many no's as you need, you just need a yes or two and you're off. Well done for keeping at it and not getting discouraged.
Tuesday January 5, 2010, 8:08 am
God bless you Shelby; keep up the great work. I wonder if some of those people who threatened have come down with the same symptoms as you and your daughter did. When they realize that, if they ever do, maybe they would change their way. I hope you and your daughter are in better health now.
Tuesday January 5, 2010, 8:16 am
Thank you Shelby. You are an inspiration to many, that we can stand up and change our community and world for the better. You have my best wishes for a Happy & Healthy New Year.
Tuesday January 5, 2010, 8:53 am
While this is the story of an incredible mother, and an incredible woman--it's most importantly something more: the story of an incredible person. Shelby is truly an inspirational person.
Tuesday January 5, 2010, 8:55 am
I read this article and it sounds just like the same symtons as the Chinese drywall here in Florida. Some folks just are highly more sensitive than others. I'm happy this lady and her family are doin well now. It could have gone all wrong but she was smart enough to realize that something was making her and her family sick and done something about it. We as American's have come to the everyday life with taking the easy way out and short cuts to get what we want or get the job done. It's really sad that quality doesn't mean crap in this society anymore!!!!
Tuesday January 5, 2010, 9:08 am
Thanks for the inspiration & useful information! Gives me hope that my own efforts will be fruitful. Maybe an alternative can be found for repaving streets & school playgrounds as well?
Tuesday January 5, 2010, 9:11 am
everyone deserves to live in a safe environment, so this is just the sort of thing that benefits all involved, creating awareness and a real solution to a real problem! Congrats on the success, I hope all is well with you and your beautiful daughter now!
Tuesday January 5, 2010, 9:28 am
This is an example of grassroot activism at its best. Truly an inspirational story. It proves it can be done, even with limited resources and support (at the outset). I just love this recipe for grassroot activism. It is something each and everyone one of can (should?) emulate concerning causes the we also fight for and believe in. Every obstacle can be overcome if one has the right attitude and develop the right tools. Thank you Randy for highlighting this inspirational story on Today's action.
Tuesday January 5, 2010, 10:37 am
Well done. It's great to read a story like this and to hear of people like you taking action. And it's a great example of how one person really can make a difference. ;-)
Tuesday January 5, 2010, 12:12 pm
Shelby you are a love. Talk about don't mess with my daughter... my family, my community hey I'm the mother & this isn't going down like that!
Thank you for fighting a battle you had no choice but to win. Congratulations you are the best!
Tuesday January 5, 2010, 12:37 pm
Amazing work Dearest Shelby. We need more people like you!!! You inspire me much, because being a mother of three Beautiful girls, I would do the same like you, fighting until the end, not matter what!!!
Thank You so much to Randy Paynter for the interview.
Much Love and Happy New Year 2010!
Tuesday January 5, 2010, 2:07 pm
Well done Shelby, alot of us get angry about things, but few of us actually pick up the reins, fight the fight and make a difference. You are an inspiration, Thank You!
Tuesday January 5, 2010, 2:59 pm
I am living in an area with a mushroom farm. Their practices have caused asthman in my child. I have been to the health department with no help. Thanks for giving me the encouragement that something else might be done!
Tuesday January 5, 2010, 3:37 pm
THANKS FOR BEING SUCH AN INSPIRATION AND CARING ENOUGH OF OTHERS TO SHARE, AND SPREAD THE NEWS!!
THE INFO IS VERY USEFUL AND KNOWLEDABLE, THANKS FOR WORKING SOO HARD AND CARING-BIG HUGS!!
Tuesday January 5, 2010, 4:13 pm
We all need to summon the type of strength and perseverance that Shelby has, when corruption, unhealthy practices, illegal actions, etc., directly impacted our lives. Imagine what it would be like around here if we all took the initiative to instigate change.
Too much apathy exists within us, and we become complacent; "Someone should do something soon..." How about us, how about now?
Thank you for your compelling story, Shelby. It will serve as a reminder of just how much one person can accomplish. Nicely done.
I wish you, your daughter, and all your loved ones good health and peace.
Tuesday January 5, 2010, 8:51 pm
Fantastic article; fantastic woman! She's an inspiration to all of us 'regular folks' that would like to bring about change. And kudos to Care2 for providing a much needed venue for achieving those changes!
Tuesday January 5, 2010, 8:54 pm
I wanted to thank all of you for your comments. You made my day! Feel free to ask me any and all questions on my page about your community projects as well. Happy New Year! http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/tarroofs
Tuesday January 5, 2010, 9:05 pm
Randy after reading Shelby Rodriguez account and watching 2009's Mom on a Mission "Sick and Tarred" all i can say is that I am rpfoundly impressed and inspired by her courage, intellingence and her perseverance.
Love is defined and expressed in many ways.
Shelby's love for her daughter was her motivation I believe and it is true, by virtue of her success here, that in fact, love does conquer all !
Thank you for a great story and start to my New Year!
Tuesday January 5, 2010, 10:05 pm
Very cool Shelby, you found in yourself the power to act against seemingly overwhelming odds by always moving forward regardless of appearances; your perseverance and commitment led you through the tight places to your final goal. Thank you for being a model of the inborn power we all have when we trust ourselves.
Tuesday January 5, 2010, 10:51 pm
What a role model and a half. Better than Brokovitich or whatever her name was. Really outstanding for a "small" citizen to take such big steps, and benefit not only her daughter and self, but the wider community as well. Good on you!
Friday February 19, 2010, 1:24 pm
I totally agree with this, Nice one Shelby, your inspiration to stand up to these people shows unlimited care and courage. We need more people like Shelby to make the world a better place for everyone.
Saturday March 20, 2010, 4:58 pm
Wonderful story about persistence and determination and the power of one. If you see something wrong that is damaging people, the environment or the animals, keep trying to have that project stopped or changed. Never be discouraged. Well done Shelby!
Monday March 29, 2010, 10:58 pm
Shelby, you deserve that award fully. Congrats and hope that others are as inspired by your actions as me. Also I hope that your daughter's symptoms have disappeared and she's growing up healthy as can be. Enjoy your family and your life. You've earned the right.
Monday January 17, 2011, 1:28 pm
I'm totally speechless! But as a mother with sensitive children, I would do the same. This mother walked through fire for her precious daughter. May God bless this woman and her child!
Friday December 30, 2011, 8:50 am
I suppose I only wonder why she would have been "alone" in her mission, why her neighbors wouldn't have been equally upset about being exposed to carcinogens for three years. Inspirational and empowering.
Wednesday July 11, 2012, 4:16 pm
What an inspiration to her daughter, her community and to other Care2 members. Thanks so much for the additional advice to others. Much appreciated and congratulations on your victory.
Tuesday November 27, 2012, 12:44 am
Well done and congratulations on a job well done with great results. I know what you mean when you said, how can i make a difference when its just me' I had this happen to me too but pressed on and as miracles happened I met a man in a chat room by chance who decided to create a share and where did he put it? Right here in C2 and that was back in 2005 and thats why Im here today. We all need to believe in ourselves and if we have all the facts completely by working on it then those agin us wont usually have the answers. Good on you!
Monday June 3, 2013, 2:36 pm
Wow! This sure shows the doubters just what ONE person CAN do. Stand up for what you believe in and make a difference; you never know whose life you may change for the better.
Tuesday July 16, 2013, 8:00 am
I am so impressed with Shelby's passion and dedication to taking care of her neighborhood problem over seemingly insurmountable odds, including threats of legal prosecution. I am inspired to do more!
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