Achievements of some outstanding local AmeriCorps members and their projects.
Today, AmeriCorps members from the Northwest Service Academy (NWSA) graduate from their term of AmeriCorps service — I want to congratulate them and to share what I learned about the work of some members at their recent Achievements Symposium.
A few weeks ago I listened to presentations by several NWSA members about their work. I was stunned not only by the calibre of experience the members brought with them into their service, but also the degree to which they used their term of service to develop innovative new programs, that will have a lasting impact in their communities.
I want to highlight two of the projects I heard about here:
Gregg Hayward has been the School Recycling Coordinator for Clark County Solid Waste. Clark County is in southern Washington state, just north of Portland. Gregg has been operating a program called Save Organic Scraps, or S.O.S., teaching K-12 students about recycling and composting, and giving them the opportunity to create significant waste diversion at their schools and at home.
Composting — turning food waste into rich black soil for use in gardening and other endeavors — creates healthier soil for people and fish, that decreases the need for polluting chemical fertilizers. Diverting food waste from landfills also reduces the amount of methane gas in the atmosphere. Read more about the benefits of composting.
Recycling cans and bottles conserves energy and natural resources, at the same time it keeps bottles and cans out of landfills, decreasing greenhouse gases.
Through the program, students sorted their trash after finishing lunch in the cafeteria — while student volunteers monitored the bins. What used to all go into the trash bin now goes into trash, compost, and recycling bins.
Just this past year, students have diverted 1.2 million pounds of food and paper from the landfill. Since 2005, the Vancouver, Camas and Evergreen School Districts have sent more than 2 million pounds of organic matter to Cedar Grove Composting, rather than the landfill. Students bring their new awareness about sorting trash home with them and encourage their families to compost and recycle as well.
Gregg’s role has been to educate the kids as well as update the curriculum for lead teachers to use; develop logistical and educational tools; run waste audits with partner schools; expand the program to include 13 more schools. Gregg said that the schools are sharing their success stories with each other, and approaching him to participate. He also developed a film called Cafeteria to Compost which gives the backstory about how collected food waste is turned into compost.
Demonstration Wildlife Habitat Garden • Melanie McCandless
Apparently you can turn your own urban or suburban backyard (or apartment balcony!) into a wildlife habitat by growing native plants that are sources of water, food, cover, and places to raise young, for native reptiles, mammals, bees, butterflies, and birds. I thought this was a great idea, and a useful alternative to the manicured lawn.
Restoring wildlife habitat in your neighborhood attracts diverse native wildlife and increases the efficiency of our ecosystem. For example, providing a healthy place for bees to visit is crucial for us all, because bees pollinate flowers to help grow new fruits and vegetables.
Melanie McCandless has been serving with the City of Gresham, Oregon — just east of Portland — as the Community Habitat Steward, educating homeowners about the possibilities of turning their private green spaces into wildlife habitat.
Melanie has worked with homeowners to evaluate their yards, identify obstacles and opportunities, and gain a commitment from them to increase the habitat value of their property by growing select native plants, installing a bird bath to hold water, and/or building a rock pile. Some homeowners who convert their yards to habitat opt to get certified through the National Wildlife Federation (or other certification body). Melanie helps educate and motivate homeowners through the transition.
Serendipitously, before Melanie’s term of AmeriCorps service even started, the volunteer coordinator of a local church was looking for a new way to use an empty lot that the church owned. Through community connections, Melanie and the volunteer coordinator Barbara Brooks teamed up to create a demonstration wildlife habitat garden in the half-acre lot adjacent to Covenant Presbyterian Church. They wanted to use the land to show the community what it would look like to turn your yard into wildlife habitat.
Leveraging community volunteers, Melanie and Barbara have worked since late February implementing their plan for the demonstration garden, bringing in native plants and putting them in the ground in a way that both supports wildlife as well as looks beautiful to the church community and other visitors. For example, they planted tall thicket-forming plants near the entrance to the garden, to obscure the view of the street, as well as to offer food and shelter for birds and small mammals.
If you live in the Portland area, or are traveling through some time, look for the demonstration garden near Covenant Presbyterian Church at 18640 SE Division Street in Gresham.
Also check out this video about Wildlife Habitat certification from the National Wildlife Federation: