Alumni in Profile / Cathy Calfo: An advocate of the green revolution

Cathy Calfo (photo by Jay Blakesberg)

When Cathy Calfo was in ninth grade, she and some of her fellow students campaigned to have a controversial bike lane installed near their school. Little did Calfo realize that that push for needed change would become a hallmark of her life.

Now 52, Calfo (Merrill '95, American studies) is executive director of an organization that is working to build a green economy in the United States, which she believes is the way not only to fight climate change but also to put millions of Americans to work.

Along the way, Calfo also has been executive director of the California Democratic Party, run political campaigns, worked as California's deputy state treasurer, and helped push the investment of $1.5 billion in state pension funds into environmentally responsible companies, green technology, and renewable energy.

"My involvement in politics," said Calfo, "is rooted in being able to move policies that make things better for people."

A founding member of Santa Cruz's Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women, Calfo still lives in the city where she went to college. But now, three days a week, she catches a bus and train to the San Francisco office of the Apollo Alliance. There, she oversees a $2.5 million program that has built a coalition of labor, business, and environmental and community leaders to push for an economy that, she said, "is both energy-efficient and equitable."

The single mother of three sons, Calfo believes that without this shift, not only will the next generation face the environmental consequences of climate change, but also the disappearance of the American middle class, which is being eroded by the loss of blue-collar jobs.

"This is a huge moment, a huge opportunity, if we do it right," she said.

Some of her organization's projects include training workers from L.A.'s inner-city to do a green retrofit of city buildings and the establishment of a Green Jobs Corps in Oakland. Part of 2009's $787 billion stimulus bill also included clean-energy and green-collar job programs inspired by Apollo Alliance policy proposals.

In her own life, Calfo's desire to provoke change led her to volunteer for an organization that helped homeless teens. Discovering that many of these children had been in the foster-care system, Calfo began to investigate.

Seven years ago, she brought a 3-year-old foster child named Elijah into her life and has now adopted him.

"It's probably the best thing that ever happened to me," she said.