In April, Marissa Christiansen, executive director of Friends of the LA River (FoLAR), was gearing up for the 30th Great LA River Cleanup. She and her team were looking to galvanize 10,000 volunteers to pick up 140 tons of trash along the 51-mile span. But while she was excited to lead FoLAR’s cleanup for another year, her desire to help protect the Earth was deepened: Seven months ago, she became a mom for the first time.
Becoming a mom “has made me acutely aware of the state that our planet is in and how we must all do our small or big part in correcting things now,” Christiansen says. “The time is upon us. It’s our children who are going to pay the price. I’m so committed and so proud and so desperate to continue with this important environmental mission that is a piece of the climate-changing puzzle. I want to teach [my daughter] to also perpetuate solutions.”
Christiansen says that for most of her adulthood, she wasn’t sure she wanted to become a mom, but when her mom was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease recently, it was a wake-up call that made her re-evaluate motherhood. “It never really hit me between the eyes until then,” she says. Today, her mother is “over the moon” about her granddaughter, Jasa Vie. “She calls her ‘my baby,’ Christiansen says. “She’s both sets of grandparents’ first grandchild.”
And Christiansen is determined to make going to the river that folks once did not view as a “real river” a part of Jasa Vie’s childhood. She credits FoLAR co-founder and poet Lewis MacAdams, called “the father of the River Movement,” with shifting the way people and government viewed the LA River, which the Environmental Protection Agency designated as a navigable waterway in 2010. Bike paths, new cafes, partnerships, initiatives to improve living situations for homeless people who encamp along parts of the river, cleanups and the like continue to help move FoLAR’s mission of ensuring a publicly accessible and ecologically sustainable river forward.
“We want to re-wild the LA River,” Christiansen says. “We want to mobilize the 50,000 supporters that we have with us to call on their government agencies that are responsible for the river to start innovating ways to re-wild the river.”
Alongside these initiatives, Christiansen had to spearhead some internal policies that hit closer to home once she was pregnant. “Nobody had ever really had a baby at FoLAR before, and I got to write and propose a family leave policy,” she says. “I never really understood how hard it was to balance motherhood and career. There was a little piece of me that was judgmental. I was so wrong in that. That’s what motherhood has been for me so far: correcting the misconceptions.”