SOMA People of a Certain Age: Lorraine Graves

The People That You Meet column, produced by The Vanessa Pollock Team and published by Village Green, has become so popular that Village Green is receiving requests for interviews. If you have a suggestion for a profile, please email us at [email protected] and we will forward your information. To address some of the requests, we’re also teaming up with Cathy Rowe of the SOMA: Two Towns for All Ages initiative, to interview SOMA residents of a certain age. We start with Lorraine Graves. Graves works for the EPA and is trying to start a “Repair Café” program in our towns. 

Lorraine Graves

How long have you lived in South Orange/Maplewood?

35 years

Where did you grow up?

Passaic, NJ

What brought you here?

A shot at good schools for the one child I had then.  Also, I liked the spirit of the Tuxedo Park neighborhood.

What do you do at the EPA?

My work focus is on helping both institutions and individuals make less municipal solid waste (garbage in layman terms).  Right now the emphasis is on reducing food waste as it represents 21% of the solid waste stream nationally. My team is also working on figuring out how to reduce the take out container waste stream. My other big focus is working with the eight federally recognized Indian Nations (all in New York State) to help them reduce their waste streams and increase recycling and reuse. I love what I do.

Are you involved with local environmental groups and efforts in South Orange & Maplewood?

I’m an alternate to the So. Orange Environmental Commission and I’ve attended meetings held by the Maplewood Green Team.

The Repair Cafe concept sounds fascinating! Where did you find out about it?

I learned about the details during a webinar, but I have been keen to start some sort of reuse movement in SOMA for a long time. Once you look at materials going to landfill or incineration as we do in in Essex County, you think about items in a different way. I was thinking about starting a brick and mortar materials exchange operation modeled after Materials for the Arts in NYC, but I think the Repair Café might be even better, giving new life and continued purpose to items that are broken but valued. Since it’s event oriented, it’s not tied to rental or leasing. And it is designed to build community as well.  I love win/win solutions.

Have you identified a space and partners in Maplewood and South Orange? How far along are your efforts? 

We are going to be having a meeting or two to introduce the concept to the community and to recruit for volunteers with skills to apply and share. Seniors or retired community members are a logical focus, but folks who are actively engaged in repair type skills are invaluable. The first event will probably be held in September. There are lots of spaces in our two towns that are ideal for this effort.

The lost art of repairing objects seems a great focus for people of a certain age. Do you wax nostalgic for the days when everyone sewed or did their own home improvements? 

My mom applied her sewing skills a bit later in life, on an old Singer machine with a foot treadle no less. I heard plenty of stories from the generation that came through the Depression about how nothing was wasted. Sadly that was all turned around during my childhood and despite recycling, the disposable age is still in full force.

Do you see the Repair Cafe as a metaphor for aging? (Don’t throw us away! Re-use us!)

I actually hadn’t thought of that. But aging is like old wine perhaps? I like to think we improve with age.

Do you think SOMA can hang onto its seniors?

I hope so.  I would like to stay here. Retirement communities have no appeal for me.

What your favorite non-repair cafe in SOMA?

The Grid Iron Waffle Shop.  They make exceptional French toast.  They start making it for me as soon as they see me come through the door!

What’s your favorite nature/natural space in the towns?

I don’t think I have an absolute favorite. I really appreciate all the green space and mature trees. There are so many good places to walk, picnic or just enjoy the open space. Although not “natural”, one of my favorite spots is the pool, especially at the extremities of the day. Such a sense of well being!!! Worth every penny!!

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