Founder of the Go Green Initiative, which teaches children and schools how to be good stewards of the earth, Buck is also actively involved with the California Elected Women's Association, which encourages women to attain high-ranking positions in either the political, educational or other organizational fields, a former officer in the U.S. Navy and a mother of three. Her contributions to Pleasanton and the Tri-Valley area are far-reaching and that is why the Pleasanton Weekly has chosen Jill Buck as our 2007 Woman of the Year.
A native of Mt. Vernon, Ill., Jill Buck, 38, met her husband Mark when she was 19 years old and he was 20. The pair attended the University of Illinois together where she was enrolled in the ROTC program. After college, they moved out west to California. Jill Buck became a naval officer, working at the Fleet Training Center in San Diego, while her husband became an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. In San Diego, she worked in military justice, gathering information for ship captains regarding sailors' bad conduct.
"I always felt it was good training for motherhood," she said jokingly.
After getting out of the military in 1997, she remained a reservist until two years ago when the Navy sent her papers declaring that she was discharged because her position wasn't needed anymore.
"We started our family very young," she said. "I really loved being on active duty. I probably would still be in today but I wanted to be a really good mom, so that was just not an option."
Mark Buck is now an inactive reservist in the infantry division with the Marine Corps. They have three children: Katie, 16, a sophomore at Amador Valley High School; Andy, 11, a fifth-grader at Walnut Grove Elementary School and Mandy, 9, a third-grader at Walnut Grove.
The pair left San Diego when Mark Buck was offered a civilian job in South Carolina. But it wasn't long before Jill Buck found herself missing the California sunshine. After nearly two years on the East Coast, they moved to the Bay Area when her husband was offered a position within the same company in the Silicon Valley. The Bucks have lived in Pleasanton since 1999.
"I can't explain it, but it felt like my hometown," she said. "Even though I had never been there before I went house hunting, it just felt like where I belonged."
Buck also enjoys her involvement as a catechist at the Catholic Community of Pleasanton for the past seven years.
From PFA to PTA
Buck's early beginnings in education involved bringing the previous Pleasanton Parent Faculty Association (PFA) to become a Parent Teacher Association (PTA). And she was practically born to do it.
"My mom had been a PTA president and my grandmother had been a PTA president, so I knew the organization well," she said.
As a PFA, the organization stood alone--it wasn't part of a bigger organization.
"When I became the PFA president at Walnut Grove, I started talking to folks about considering being a PTA," Buck said. "We had some folks from California PTA come in and talk to us about the difference in being a PTA. Halfway through that school year, we voted to be a PTA. I served one more year as president and that second year is where I started the Go Green Initiative."
Buck said the benefit of a PTA is that a number of interested participants are brought together by a common bond and for the common good.
"When parents and administrators and students and teachers all came together united, not just in one school or in the state, but the nation as what happens with PTA, then we can really accomplish more on behalf of children than just acting alone with one school," she said.
That inspiration led her further, and as Walnut Grove's PTA president, she joined up with other area PTA presidents to form a PTA council, where she became its first president.
"The PTA Council continues to have a wonderful working relationship with the school district and they've been responsible for health issues for children, getting shade structures to protect children from overexposure to the sun, food allergies--the list goes on," she said.
Go Green Initiative
Through all of Buck's work in education, her largest contribution has been the development of the Go Green Initiative (GGI) in 2002.
The program is celebrating over five years of success and with each passing day, is entering new schools and more importantly, new countries.
"What started on my kitchen table in Pleasanton in 2002 is now in 46 states, 10 countries and on four continents," Buck said. "We are almost in 1,000 schools now. At the beginning of the school year, we were in just about 500 schools, so we've doubled in just a few months. We're going very, very fast. We've also expanded our board of directors. I'm really proud to work with them."
This year has been productive for GGI to say the least. In November, the third annual Earth Summit was held in San Jose, featuring a number of Pleasanton teachers, principals as well as other education leaders.
"The Pleasanton schools have been doing it the longest and some of our newer Go Green schools are interested in finding out what's happening at the vortex of the Go Green Initiative," she said. "This year, we had a man from Uganda, who is implementing the Go Green Initiative in his country; we had somebody from Australia; people from the U.K. It was truly an international summit."
Buck said no matter what state, country or continent you live in, the needs and wants are always universal--for children to have good health, live in a safe environment and have clean water to drink.
In Uganda, another nonprofit GGI is working with will donate 50,000 tree seedlings to be planted in the African country. Students from 10 different schools there will help plant them next spring.
"Because of our large network with the Go Green Initiative, we've been able to bring people together who might not have otherwise met to solve real problems and I love that," she said.
Word is spreading like wildfire about the program. The Web site, www.gogreeninitiative.org, gets 20,000 new, unique visitors per month and a total of nearly 200,000 visits per month. The initiative is now translated into five languages: English, Spanish, French and two dialects of Mandarin and will be translating into five more in 2008--all based on requests.
While the concern about global warming receiving more media coverage has raised the popularity of programs like GGI, Buck said there's always been an interest.
"What has made the Go Green Initiative stand out amongst the crowd are a couple of things: our program is completely free, which is pretty unique," she said. "We don't rely on taxpayer dollars or charging schools for materials which means that schools, no matter where they are or what their demographics may be, have equitable access to all our materials and all our training.
"A lot of environmental programs are run through government agencies and they're pretty expensive to taxpayers, so that's not how we operate. One of the main things that make us extremely unique is that we have measurable results. We don't just go in and ask schools to do things because it's the right thing to do because it will get them some media if they put a solar panel on their roof.
"We actually measure our schools' success by being able to quantify what they doing into real terms, such as how many metric tons of gas emissions have been avoided, how many gallons of oil and water have been saved. No other program does that.
"People can get their arms around it--say if we can recycle this much paper or this many cans, what's the result of that? And we can measure that, and we do."
In her downtime
As if a 40-hour-a-week commitment to the Go Green Initiative weren't enough, Buck has her hands in a number of local organizations, from veteran's affairs to empowering women to seek local offices. At this rate, it's impossible to believe she has any time to herself.
Buck serves as the vice president for the Bay Area chapter of CEWAER, which stands for the California Elected Women's Association for Education and Research. The organization empowers women to seek public service.
"Whether you're a Republican, Democrat, Independent, Green Party, nobody cares," she said. "We see each other as women who care about our communities. I learned that from my mom and my grandmother. They were always very, very active in my community and I never questioned that I would be involved in the community. That was an unspoken family value. You give back to your community and hopefully, my kids are learning the same thing from me."
Buck has also entered the political scene, running last year as a Republican for the State Assembly, but ultimately losing to Democratic candidate Mary Hayashi for the 18th District seat. But her political aspirations are on hold right now as she continues her involvement with GGI. She also ran unsuccessfully for an open school board seat in January after school board President Steve Pulido left the post for an Alameda County judgeship.
In addition, Buck is involved with helping homeless military veterans--an effort especially significant to her being a former naval officer. Serving on the Veteran's Affairs Commission for San Francisco, she has worked clothing drives to provide such basic necessities as underwear and socks for homeless vets.
"That's something that's always been near and dear to my heart," she said. "To see folks who have voluntarily served our country to be out on the street, homeless and in need (is heartbreaking)," she said.
Acclaim and fame
It won't be long before Buck is back on the road again, speaking at engagements about the Go Green Initiative. She just returned from China on a Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce-sponsored trip where she met with delegates about the environmental initiative and will return to Shanghai to give a speech for thousands of young Chinese business leaders. Next year's Earth Summit will be held in Syracuse, N.Y. to pay tribute to the many East Coast schools that participate in the initiative.
She'll also likely be involved in high-level appearances, as she has already been this year with a stint on the Martha Stewart radio program. She said she's also gotten calls from "The Ellen Degeneres Show" and GGI regularly partners with The Discovery Channel to feature a Go Green school of the week on www.treehugger.com.
It won't be long before Oprah comes calling.