If an individual can make a big difference, consider what many individuals can do. Whether they’re taking care of their own or helping people who live far away, these six towns have decided to forge their own paths into global citizenship. Read on for their inspirational stories.
1. GREENSBURG, KANSAS, RUNS ON RENEWABLE ENERGY.
In 2007, a massive tornado ripped through Greensburg, Kansas, destroying 95 percent of the town’s structures. When rebuilding their hometown, residents saw an opportunity to plan it in a better way, and banded together to make it as green as possible. By 2013, they had achieved their goal: The town of under 1000 residents was relying on 100 percent renewable energy resources including wind—the element that nearly destroyed it just six years earlier. Burlington, Vermont soon followed as the U.S.’s second municipality to rely exclusively on renewable resources to power its population of 42,000.
2. CLARKSTON, GEORGIA, WELCOMES REFUGEES WITH OPEN ARMS.
The small, little-known town of Clarkston, Georgia (population: 13,000) may seem an unlikely landing ground for refugees. Yet it doesn’t just open its doors to 1500 refugees a year—it welcomes them with open arms. In the past 25 years, the self-proclaimed “Ellis Island of the South” has served as the first American home for approximately 40,000 people from around the globe. Friends of Refugees, a local organization that provides services to newcomers, has recently seen a 400 percent increase in the number of volunteer applications.
3. DHARNAI, INDIA, ACHIEVED FULL SOLAR POWER—AND FULL POWER AT THE SAME TIME.
Just under three years ago, the 2000 residents of Dharnai, India, a small village in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, received reliable electricity for the first time in 30 years. But that feat wasn’t enough—when the town’s oldest resident flipped the switch that brought them into the modern era, they became India’s first municipality to be powered fully by solar energy.
4. KAMIKATSU, JAPAN, SORTS ITS RECYCLING INTO 34 CATEGORIES.
To reach their initiative of zero waste by 2020, the residents of Kamikatsu, Japan, clean and transport their household waste to a central location—after sorting it into 34 different categories! So far, they’ve reached 80 percent of their zero-waste goal. Other cities that have embarked on the same mission include San Francisco, California, New York, New York, and Buenos Aires, Argentina.
5. SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH, IS SETTING THE BAR IN REDUCING HOMELESSNESS.
After Utah’s capital city set a goal to end homelessness, many thought they wouldn’t be able to do it. But the success of the method they tried—Housing First, which “decriminalizes” the act of being homeless by providing participants with housing, then services—was so successful that Utah became the first state to enact the measure. After a decade working with the technique, Utah had reduced chronic homelessness by 91 percent.
6. SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA, PROVIDES A COST-FREE COLLEGE EDUCATION TO ALL.
In February, San Francisco became the first U.S. municipality to offer a plan that would provide a free college education to all residents, regardless of income. Full-time low-income students would receive an additional waiver for costs including books. To pull off the feat, the city is expected to give $5.4 million annually to the City College of San Francisco. Residents of The Golden City have already approved a tax code change that would help accomplish the goal.