Tough challenges spur this Denver metro volunteer

By Carol Carpenter
RMC Communications Team

Matt Elsner DMN chair
Mat Elsner

When Sierra Club gets a new member, that person does not always quickly and enthusiastically jump on the active volunteerbandwagon. Sometimes they never do.

But when Mat Elsner moved to Colorado from New York City in 2011, he wasted little time finding his way to the Rocky Mountain Chapter, not simply joining an established committee or group, but soon working with others to establish a brand new activist group—the Denver Metro Network (DMN). While planning for the DMN had been underway for some time, Mat helped bring it to fruition and enthusiastically accepted when he was asked to become the team’s leadership chair.

“Volunteering for the Sierra Club is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done, and I’ve really—honestly—never met a better group of people to work with,” Mat, a resident of Lakewood, states affirmatively. “I would like to see the Denver Metro Network become THE focal point for Sierra Club members in our geographic area for outings, activism and representation on environmental issues. I want us to offer opportunities for every Sierra Club member locally to get involved in meaningful ways.”

Almost without saying, getting the DMN up and going hasn’t been easy, but perseverance is paying off, Mat has learned. “Since the DMN is still very new, my focus is on building a strong network of engaged volunteers. I’m still working on getting people involved,” he points out. “Also, it is my responsibility to ensure that the DMN represents the wide variety of members and interests who live in our area.”

The Network was one of the groups that helped get a fracking moratorium passed in Broomfield last year. As chair, he has already spoken against developing Hentzell Park in southeast Denver, advocated for a disposable shopping bag fee locally, and is working to get shark fin soup pulled off of restaurant menus.

Hike & Writes: a personal favorite

He is particularly enthusiastic about a unique series of events rolled out last fall by the DMN:  “Hike & Write” outings. Participants not only get to hike in the scenic Colorado outdoors, but they also stop at various points to write about the experience under the guidance of noted author and naturalist Richard Fleck. Participants in one such outing on Mount Falcon produced haiku, which were published in the September Peak & Prairie.

Matt Elsner with motorcycle
Mat enjoyed a motorcycle trip in Denali

“Hike & Write is personally one of my favorites,” Mat enthuses. “It combines two of the activities I love most. I really enjoy hearing the different perspectives of the participants via writing styles like haikus and amulets.”

Mat expects that 2014 will be an active year for the still-fledgling DMN. He also looks forward to working more at the Chapter level as well. “Figuring out and navigating the myriad entities and responsibilities within Sierra Club is sometimes still a challenge; there isn’t a set org chart to refer to,” he points out. “That’s a good thing, though, because it allows people to work on what matters to them in a fluid way. Growing and changing organically is a positive thing, just hard to keep track of sometimes,” he jokes.

Mat, obviously, believes deeply in his commitment to Sierra Club. He concludes: “The Club reflects my values of simultaneously enjoying and exploring our natural world while working to protect it. I also enjoy working for a grassroots organization that so highly values the contribution of local volunteers.”

“But what I’d most want people to know is that volunteering for the Sierra Club is something anyone can do. Even a couple of hours a month can make a real difference.”

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