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This is Hunting Park

This community in Philadelphia, while full of families and individuals working hard to make ends meet, is taking action in their own backyards to address climate change.  In this bonus podcast episode hear from film maker Nathan Roels and local climate organizer Allen Drew about how this storytelling project came together.  And be inspired to see how you can take action for creation in your own backyard.

The following is a transcript of Season 6 Bonus Episode of the Do Justice podcast.  It has been lightly edited for clarity.  Listen and subscribe on your favourite listening app.  

Chris: Well, hello, friends, welcome to a bonus episode. That's right, you heard it correctly. This is a bonus episode of the Do Justice Podcast. I'm Chris Orme, I'm your host. Thanks for joining us today. Here's the question: what does it look like when our advocacy and the justice issues that we care about get enacted in community and how do we give teeth to our advocacy? How do we give teeth to the things that we care about? What does it look like when it's lived out in the real world? And today I'm very privileged to be joined by two guys who are doing the work and doing it in a community, and are also telling the story. First, welcome Nathan Roels. Yeah, he does. Video producer with Second Mile Video. Nate, thanks for joining us today. Really appreciate it. And we also have Allen Drew, Eastern U.S. Regional Organizer with the Climate Witness Project. We've got a story to tell today. It's a little different. But first I just wanna give the guys a chance to introduce themselves, say a little bit about who they are and what they're doing. Nate, welcome. Tell our listeners a little bit about yourself.

Nate: So I am from Grand Rapids, Michigan where I was born and raised, and I went to Calvin University. Graduated in 2017 with a degree in Film and Media and then I went on to start my own video production company called Second Mile Video, where I try to work mostly with ministries and nonprofits and tell stories that I think are important and that motivate and inspire me as well.

Chris: Very cool. And Nate, just for fun, you're a videographer, you probably do a lot of work on the road. What's your go-to favorite snack? What's the food deal on the road for you? What do you do to keep yourself fueled?

Nate: Probably not anything that I should be eating like today, for example, and I'm not on the road today, but my diet was like eggo waffles and pizza rolls. So I’m probably not a good example. But when I’m on the road I maybe pack like granola bars and chips and beef jerky or something. But I end up a lot of times just stopping places, too, if I see something that I pass by that looks good.

Chris: Any particular brand of beef jerky? Not that we're sponsored or anything.

Nate: No, I’m not a frequent buyer. I like most—I’m not a picky eater, so. Whatever looks cheap and will fill me up.

Chris: Fantastic. Yeah, Nate Roels everybody, he's on the seafood diet. He sees food, and he eats it and he keeps himself going. It's awesome and Allen Drew, hey, thanks for joining us, buddy. We really appreciate it. Tell us a little bit about the work that you do and tell us about the Climate Witness Project and what keeps you busy.

Allen: Yeah, so I’m the Eastern Regional Organizer for the Climate Witness Project. My background is sort of a fusion of different things. I was—my undergrad’s in biology, so I have a science background. Then I went to Seminary and was a pastor in the CRC for ten  years with a church plant, which was a great experience. I now work as the Eastern Regional Organizer for the Climate Witness Project. It's a grandiose title—the Eastern U.S. is massive. I really am mostly focused in Philadelphia, which is where I live. I do a few things. Kind of the first thing I focus on is communicating in primarily churches, but faith communities in general about the climate crisis and framing it from a faith perspective. The Bible gives us all the tools to be highly motivated on this issue for multiple reasons. So I work to give that kind of communication and work to build climate teams and climate engagement campaigns within churches. I work to do political advocacy. This is kind of the second thing, and that's primarily through partnerships with regional organizations. Some stuff specifically is the CWP, but I work with an organization called Here for CJ which is a climate-oriented housing justice solutions coalition in Philadelphia, and also an interfaith organization called Power Interfaith who does a bunch of climate justice work. So I work with them to press for legislative change, and then I have a hyperlocal focus in the neighborhood of Hunting Park, which is in North Philly. I'm the organizer for the Hunting Park Community Solar Initiative, which is a collaboration of three Hunting Park block captains, five Hunting Park nonprofits, three Hunting Park churches working together to do a number of things related to housing justice. Basically, we say we're working to strengthen homes, jobs and finances through energy efficiency and weatherization, rooftop solar, and solar installation job training. So we actually recently got a PDEP grant to build a solar training classroom in a partner  Christian vocational school in Hunting Park. We're just wrapping up our first class graduating our first students. We have a bunch of relationships as solar installers so we're going to train people and then support them through the whole process of getting employed. We also have partnerships with the local solar installers that there's a financial component to them, so as we spread solar it creates a revenue stream to our group which we're using—our goal is to use that revenue stream to hire local labor to do white coating of roofs because Hunting Park is an extreme heat zone because of historic economic disinvestment. And so looking to employ people to do things that cool neighborhoods, improve energy efficiency for homes and stuff like that.

Chris: So very cool. You threw a few letters at us there, I mean, CWP, those of us who are initiated know that that's the Climate Witness Project. Tell us what the grant—what were the letters in front of the grant there, just for our listeners.

Allen: Oh, yeah.The PDEP is Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. And it's, within that it's an environmental education grant, which includes a sphere of workforce developments. That's primarily where we got it. It’s kind of multifaceted—it was for doing education within churches about climate, and also to work on building this.

Chris: Yeah, Well, that gives us a really neat scope of the work that you're doing. And the scope of the partnerships too, right? Because yeah, it's with churches, it's with the local community, but it's also with government actors who are—there's funding available for this stuff, and that's some of the heavy lifting that you and your team do. So we have you, the Climate Witness Guy, and we have Nate, the video guy. Let’s talk a little bit about why the two of you are together, here. You’ve been working on a project and you gave it a little shout out—the Hunting Park Project—but let’s talk about that and then get into sort of the purpose of the filming series.

So can we start there, Allen, start with: how did this all begin?

Allen: Hunting Park is this interesting juxtaposition of challenges and opportunities. It’s an extreme heat zone based on historic disinvestment and race-based redlining which, over generations, has just siphoned money out of the community and created all sorts of challenges for the people who are there, so it’s dealing with that. But it’s also a community where there’s a lot of really exciting energy and engagement. People are working to deal with the issues and face the issues. Because of that it’s a very exciting place in my mind to see the gospel play out and to see God move and to see things happen. So there’s extreme heat in Hunting Park, but there is a team called Beat the Heat and there are people who are working to plant trees in the neighborhood to cool it down, to make it greener, to make it more of a life giving space to live in. There is a lot of poverty from all this historic disinvestment, a lot of challenges in Hunting Park, but the Hunting Park Community Solar Initiative is really focused on addressing these challenges through connecting people with energy-efficiency weatherization opportunities, solarization as an opportunity for increasing energy independence and strengthening home finances, and also solar installation job training which is an amazing opportunity to build a pathway between Hunting Park and a rapidly growing solar industry. So you’re dealing with the challenges of poverty but we have an initiative that’s really working on solutions to those challenges that are at the same time really beneficial to the planet by reducing regional carbon emissions. Those are like—that’s the energy going back and forth between the challenge and the opportunity. And then in the midst of that you have people. Really interesting and exciting people. You have my friend Catalina who has been so involved in tree planting and planting gardens. I think in the video you just see there are blocks in Hunting Park that look nothing like her block because she’s invested in putting all this green on her block and you can really see and feel the difference there. There is a guy I know, he’s the director of Hunting Park Community Revitalization Corporation, he’s involved with HPCSI, a guy named Charles Lanier. He’s doing so much work in this neighborhood to connect people with opportunities to reduce their energy burden. Actually, through our partnership—HPCSI’s partnership and relationship with a pilot project going on in Philadelphia and through particularly Charles’ role with HPCRC, we were able to pull together ten households in Hunting Park that all just got confirmed to get basic systems repaired with their home in Hunting Park. We got ten families that we were able to connect with that and a lot of that had to do with Charles. I look at the Hunting Park Community Solar Initiative and graduating five students and putting on this amazing celebration for them at the end and the people that I look at are Bernadette and Diana who directed the event. These two people who really have taken ownership over this. And I also look at MooMoo, who’s in the video, one of the graduates, and Kai Sanders, our teacher. An amazing vision, for me, of this hopefulness and this excitement about possibilities. He’s such an encouraging person to know and to talk to and then Kai Sanders is such an incredible teacher with such a great rapport with her students. And to hear her talk about what she’s teaching, talk about the opportunities in solar and to watch her graduate, pass out all these diplomas to all these guys is incredible. And so I think for me, I’m so excited to have the things that are going on in Hunting Park become part of this documentary series. A lot of people will look at communities like Hunting Park, that are low income and dealing with all these challenges as being—just look at them in a negative light, but in my experience, I believe very deeply, the greatest riches that exist in this world are the riches that exist in people. There’s nothing more profound, more powerful than a simple human being because they are people who carry, who bear the image of God who have the capacity to change things. And so as I am working with and in relationship with and doing various things with the people in Hunting Park, I’m looking at a neighborhood that is dealing with economic challenges but is at the same time very rich in people. And when those two things come together, you can see needs being met by the unbelievable wealth of the human beings that live in this space. And that’s what I hope people will see in this documentary, they’ll see Hunting Park: a place that has challenges, but it’s also a place where people are rising up, taking ownership, and where the beauty of who they are, of who God has made them to be, is being expressed and is being shown and is taking effect to bring new hope and new life and new transformation to their own neighborhood. That is my hope, that’s my excitement about sharing this. I Was so excited that the CWP has decided to tell stories about this neighborhood and I look forward to seeing where these stories get traction.

Chris: Thanks for that. That gives us a really nice picture of what the work is looking like and what you guys are doing together. I love the idea of a partnership and I love the idea of a video series and storytelling. It’s powerful. And Nate, you just got back from a week of shooting video footage. What was that experience like? And are there any stories that are fresh in your mind from actually being on the ground?

Nate: Yeah, it was a really cool experience just getting to know a community over the course of a week and you only get to know the community to a certain degree but you get to know through interviewing people a lot of information that you wouldn't get just driving through and eating at restaurants or whatever. But we got to really hear about a lot of the resilience of people in the community, a lot of challenges that people are facing, a lot of the environmental issues in particular, so that was the focus of the project. I’d done some filming for another organization in a neighborhood close by. I guess the neighbor neighborhood of Hunting Park, so I had learned some things while I was there but hadn’t gotten into any of the environmental issues that I learned on this trip. Yeah, it was really cool just getting to build relationships with people over the course of  a short amount of time and just trying to find the best way to tell stories of the people in the community. I thought the solar class that Allen mentioned was really cool. That they are trying to find solutions and way to better their community by solar, which is better for the environment, can help with heating costs or your electric bill and things like that, and also can provide job opportunities for people that could be joining into a field that I think will probably be a growing field in the future, too, so that was really cool to see and just to hear the hope of some of the students and their hopes for the future and to see how they're really working to make their dreams happen.

Chris: That’s powerful. And Nate, for you, as a story teller, so you’re stepping into a community and in many ways you’re an observer. But then you get to know people and you get to know their stories and you get to hear their experiences. And this might be too vulnerable, but can you tell us—you’re an artist, in a lot of ways, and you are a storyteller—what does that do to your heart when you step into a community like that and you’re like, “I”m here to tell the story, but man it’s also pulling me.” Is any of that dynamic in play for you or are you able to just kind of—tell us a little bit about what that’s like.

Nate: Yeah, it’s kind of a balance. You’re moved by it and you can use that. The ways you’re moved some viewers would hopefully be moved as well and you can use that to propel a story further and to kind of dig deeper into some of those ideas, figuring out what personal aspects—how does this impact this person personally, as a human being how are they being impacted by the climate crisis—to me might be as moving as hearing about how thermal works or something more complicated, so sometimes I lean a little bit more into the human aspect, which this is a really human issue as well. But I also made sure to ask about everything, because I was learning too. I didn’t know a lot of this information beforehand, I’m definitely not an expert on environmental issues and this has motivated me, as you’re saying, you’re being moved by the story. When I got back I was doing more research on climate change and just learned more information about a lot of the topics that were covered. And it’s one thing I really enjoy about my job, too, is that you get to meet a lot of different people and hear a lot of different stories of people all over. Different areas of the country, different demographics, different challenges, different strengths, and you can really learn a lot and step into a world that you maybe wouldn’t otherwise. I think a lot of people like to watch a lot of documentaries or watch a lot of movies, but it’s kind of like you’re doing that in real life. You’re stepping into—and this is for like weeks, I guess a week long immersion into the story. And then, as a filmmaker, you step out but you’re still working on the story and helping to tell it. But it’s kind of like you’re experiencing these stories in real time. The one thing that is a challenge—so if a lot of times it’s short term, like you are somewhere for a week or somewhere for a day and you’re only getting a snippet of each story and one thing I’ve been working on is trying to figure out ways where I can have more long-term connections with the stories I’m telling. There’s some organizations that I definitely have that, more locally in Grand Rapids or cities around here, but it does get trickier when it’s in a different state or farther away city at least.

Chris: While I’m thankful that you step in and the way that you do it. It’s challenging, I think, to walk that line but you seem to do it so well. Allen, I want to shift to the specifics of some of the Hunting Park project. What are some of the actions that the community is taking that have really stood out to you? This is your wheelhouse, so you know what you’re doing in this sphere, but is there anything there that’s just like, “Wow, that’s different.”

Allen: I think one of the things that I’m encouraged by a lot is, as I’ve gotten to work with people broadly in Philadelphia, everybody’s kind of on the same team in the climate justice movement. People are coming from a lot of different perspectives faith-wise, just life-wise, but there seems to be a real partnership and nobody’s there to beat anybody else, there’s this recognition of a common human challenge that we need to rally together for. And that’s exciting, that’s really inspiring. I’ve definitely experienced that in Hunting Park. There’s an environmental justice steering committee that I’m part of that meets regularly. It originally was started as a committee called the Beat the Heat Initiative, which was based on a city heat study of a bunch of different neighborhoods which found Hunting Park and several other neighborhoods like it, which are largely black and brown and historically disinvested, to be 22 degrees Fahrenheit hotter during heat waves than cooler parts of the city. Which is a huge, huge amount. So if it’s 90 in one place, it’s 110 in the other place. And this is all speaking Fahrenheit, I’m not sure what that would be Celsius. 

Chris: Yeah, we’re going 30 and 40, I bet, ish, in Celsius for our Canadian listeners.

Allen: Yeah, so I originally got connected with this community kind of mixing it up working on this sort of thing. And out of that I met people, I met a solar installer, we got connected with a partnership with a local company. I got some pastors on board then some other people came on board. I’ve been really excited about how Christians and people who aren’t Christians have been able to come together and work together on things of shared value. So having several block captains, having a solar installer, having a city government rep, having some local non-profits present, three churches all partnering together to do this work has been really, really exciting to me. In terms of the actual work itself, I would reiterate what Nate, who by the way—shout out to Nate and Noah. It was so awesome having them here for that week. Everybody really loved them and appreciated them as they did all these interviews. I appreciate you, Nate. Appreciate Noah, as well. But yeah, Nate mentioned this—I’m excited about this, too, is this solar training classroom. So there’s been a very organic way that things have come together. My home church Spirit and Truth Fellowship is right in Hunting Park. One of the church planters, other pastors, a fellow pastor of mine started another church in another part of Hunting Park. He is on the leadership of a vocational school which just started having its—it started as a summer camp but it just started having its first full school year. This pastor kind of completed it for the first time, it’s a new thing. We were able to start to use that space to do this training class for working adults and as this is moving forward I’m just finding that the team is getting increasingly involved, which is what I’m excited to see. That local block captains and leadership are invested in this and are showing up regularly and are taking leadership in it and starting to rise up in that way around this. And so now we’re trying to do right by our first group of—we have a max class size of eight students that can be trained at a single time. We had four that were able to make it all the way to the end to be OSHA 10 certified and job site ready. And now we’re trying to do right by these guys and celebrate them and get them placed and this is sort of our first stage of trying to build this thing and help it grow and help it get bigger. So if things work for these guys they can go and start talking to their neighbors. So for me that feels very concrete. I think I’m very motivated by—the thing that I’m constantly dying for and driving towards—is real things happening. You need a lot of talk to move things, but what you're talking about is trying to move things to real action. So graduating four students for me is exciting. That’s something that I’m really motivated by right now. And there’s some other things that I’m really looking forward to. We’ve already, through partnerships, had some revenue streams start to develop. We’ve just built a new partnership with another solar installer that offers a fixed rate solar leasing program and that has the potential to generate more revenue, so that’s kind of the next exciting thing for me, is to try to really cultivate that revenue stream which will simultaneously be spreading rooftop solar, which will improve energy empowerment and protect people from the constantly rising cost of Peco, which is the local electricity provider, while channeling money in the community to hire local labor. WE’ve got a guy who is interested in training them, so that’s kind of taking that to the next level. Maybe it will happen at this vocational school. I’m excited to work on that and have that develop. For me the vision is, yeah, we’re consistently training a full class of students in this rooftop solar thing, we’re having periodic trainings of people for the white coating of roofs, our revenue stream is starting to, as it spreads solar, fill the pockets of people who are getting good roofer jobs on a regular basis which is simultaneously cooling the neighborhood and cooling local homes, the homes that get it. So that for me is really exciting. As these things start to build or as we start to see these concrete changes. And all the while the church is partnering with the world in Hunting Park to make this happen. 

Chris: I’m definitely going to go back and listen to all of that because there’s so much. It’s huge. The scale and scope is actually pretty overwhelming, but man. So actionable. Nate, for you, same question—you mentioned some of the trainings that you had seen and things like that, but was there—as you had immersed yourself in the community, is there something that you saw that really stood out to you that kind of just, went back into the file and like, “Okay, I’m really interested in that.”

Nate: We kind of touched on a lot of the bigger things that happened, but there’s a lot of it that, in a community like Hunting Park, you see a lot of small things that also are making a difference. You might see a resident that takes time to plant a garden in their community. I’m thinking of Catalina Hunter, who Allen spent time with. She has also just been a really good community leader with building relationships with churches and organizations. I met her the last time I was in Philadelphia too, for the other project. She happened to be, since she is a community leader, someone that they wanted to interview for that, too. But that’s because she is really influential in her community and is really a leader and is trying to make a difference in the ways that she can. And then you see like the churches that we went to—I think three or four churches—and talked to some of the pastors and just seeing that they’re still learning a lot of things about, and they’re in kind of a similar spot to myself. It's a big issue and it takes a long time to learn much, but just figuring out what little steps can we make and what difference can I make in my own life or in my own church that can have an impact and that it’s better to be even taking a small step than not making any steps at all. So I was moved to see the ways that churches see this as loving their neighbor, they see an impact by how we live our lives can have an impact on all sorts of environmental things like pollution or the air quality or even heat, with how you’re living your life. So they’re seeing it as a calling to love their neighbor, and how can we make a difference in our own lives and in our own congregations. That’s pretty inspiring as well and I’m hoping to figure out ways with my church, as well, that we can look into doing things differently. I know that there’s definitely changes that can be made there as well.

Chris: Yeah, you said something there, Nate, like for your community, your church and what they can do. I guess, Allen, this is probably more for you, this question, because this is your area, this is where you work. You connect with churches and communities of faith and all the stakeholders in different settings. What do you hope this will inspire other communities to do? I’m thinking right now that there are people listening and they’re like, “I want my church to do something, but I’m not sure what.” What action do you want to see from those communities?

Allen: I think the flow of going from zero to ten for a congregation, it sort of begins with education. It moves towards an incorporation of more climate conscious living on one’s self, and then it moves beyond that to service in the world. It’s a little bit like, you hear the word, you absorb it, you take it and change your own life and then you start to reach beyond. These can be very overlapping and muddy, but that’s kind of a general progression. What I would love to see with churches is starting by actively seeking to learn more, to learn about the realities of the climate crisis, how it impacts people, the significance of it, the massive scope of it. And then to see the deep Biblical grounding. Obviously climate change was not happening when the Bible was written, but the pieces, the grounding for engaging in climate action and creation care, it’s a human care issue. It’s so many different—the grounding is so deep, Biblically. I think for Christians, a lot of the time it just has not been fronted. They just need the dots to be put together within a Biblical framework, and then all of the sudden it’s like, “Oh, yeah! Oh my gosh.” And all of these things that people already care about very deeply within the Christian community, they suddenly see that they relate to this huge overarching issue. Connecting the dots—in that piece, I did a series at a church in Philly, which it was one of the interviewees, that is a three part Biblical deep dive. You can actually find that on the CWP website, if you go to the Eastern Regional U.S. thing, there’s a link that Victoria put in there. Victoria’s awesome, by the way. So there’s a link to do that and you can do a really Biblical deep dive and learn about it. Anyway, that’s one piece. Learn about it. Prioritize learning about this issue because it relates to a lot more than you think it does. I'm speaking to the church there. Then the second piece is, one of the things that I have that I’ve been working to create, is a tool or resource. It has some things that are very specific to my area, but a lot of things are very generally applicable. It’s a carbon footprint reduction resource. Really practical ways for normal people to reduce their carbon footprint in their home. And I think the practice of entering into that process into your own life from a faith perspective is something—one of the things that I harp on a little bit is when we over spiritualize our faith or we create this false dichotomy between heaven and earth, between spiritual and physical, and we follow an incarnated God. A God who’s joined the world, who has become flesh, who has lived in the world, who has died for the world, and who has risen for the world bodily. The whole Biblical story narrative calls us to an incarnated spirituality. And I think there’s something about doing things as mundane as changing how you use electricity, how you source it, whether you reduce, whether you compost, all these different things in your own life that invites you to bring your faith life into the most mundane aspects of your practical living. And I think there is deep spiritual richness that can be found in that exercise. Plus, it leads you to live in a more conscious way. As you start to become more conscious, as you start to make real changes, you’re not just thinking about this, you’re actually doing it. And doing things changes. That’s why Jesus says to his disciples, “Come follow me.” He doesn’t say, “Come listen to me,” he says “come follow me.” He does invite them to listen to him, too, but there’s this following with Jesus into things that reaches your heart in a different way than just thinking about things. So that’s the second stage and then I think the third stage of churches getting involved, there are so many different things going on and it’s really specific to where are you? Are you in the U.S.? Are you in Canada? Are you in a city, are you in a rural environment, what state are you in? All these different things. So I think for the church the invitation is to find what’s already going on and join and help. And this is one specific thing that I see a lot. I think as Christians we want to be the answer. And I think that makes it very hard for us to accept something like with the climate crisis, this is not being driven primarily by the church. A lot of the world has seen the importance of this, the significance of this for human beings before the church has. And so the church is behind on a lot of levels and I think it’s hard to accept that as Christians. We want to have the answer. But I think there’s something—I think the most powerful thing that Christians can offer, which is the very heart of the Gospel itself, is the ability to say, “I’m lacking. I was wrong. We were wrong. We’ve missed something.” And to actually change and to say, “You teach me.” I think the whole heart of the Gospel invites Christians to be people of humility and people who listen and people who are able to repent, to turn around and to engage in something. So I think the invitation to join in partnership with people who maybe are not Christians at all but who are already doing this work is this really powerful invitation to humility, which can allow the church to be a testimony to a group of people that actually have the tools to turn away from a path and walk toward a new path for Jesus’ sake, even if it means saying, “I was wrong.” I think there is such an opportunity there for the church right now.

Chris: Yeah. So, Nate, this has been a great conversation. Where can people catch up with the work that you’re doing, where can people check out your work and learn more about who you are and what you do?

Nate: You can see on Facebook or Instagram @secondmilevideo or my website Social media, I try to post something like once a week but sometimes forget. And my website every once in a while I update with some of the more recent projects.

Chris: Cool, yeah. Check out Nate’s work, for sure. And Allen, where can folks keep up with you and all that you’re doing right now?

Allen: We do Facebook for the CWP Eastern U.S., just look at that on Facebook and that will keep you updated. If anyone is interested in getting—I send out a fairly monthly newsletter to the supporting community that’s supporting the work here and if people really want to here on a regular basis a deep summary of what’s going on, they can email me and I can add them to the mailchimp list and then they can get updates on a regular basis. That’s probably the deepest, most comprehensive update of the work that’s happening here, if people really want to get that. But we also have a regional website (, that’s one place to go. The Hunting Park Community Solar Initiative has a website, that’s You can go there and check things out. We’ll be revamping that, adding some stuff and updating that this summer. And I’ve also got an HPCSI Philly on Facebook for HPCSI.

Chris: So today, folks, our guests have been Nathan Roels, he’s a video producer with Second Mile Video, and Allen Drew, Eastern U.S. Regional Organizer with the Climate Witness Project. Guys, thanks for being with us and thanks for sharing your story.

Nate; Thank you.

Allen: Thanks very much, Chris. And I didn't say my email if people want to do that.

Sorry about that. P.S., it’s


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