STAMFORD, Conn. (September 1, 2022) – Keep America Beautiful® is proud to announce our next Affiliate of the Month. In this KAB initiative, we feature the great work being done in our network of 700 certified affiliates. Our Affiliate of the Month for September 2022 is Keep Charlotte Beautiful in Florida.
Keep Charlotte Beautiful is being recognized for the Innovation Awards they received from KAB in 2020 and 2021. The Keep America Beautiful Innovation Award salutes affiliates that have created innovative partnerships and programs to further the mission of Keep America Beautiful.
Q&A with Keep Charlotte Beautiful Executive Director, Rhonda Harvey:
How long have you been involved with Keep Charlotte Beautiful and what role(s) have you held?
I started volunteering in 2003 with my Girl Scout Troop. I wanted to instill in them a love for the environment and the desire to give back to the community. In 2007, I was asked if I would like to work part time for KCB. Then in 2015, I applied for and got the full-time coordinator position.
When did your passion for taking care of the environment begin?
As a Texas panhandle girl, I started out as a rock hound. If there was a pile of dirt, I was in it looking for rocks. My grandmother would take me to the dump where we collected colored glass to melt in the oven and make crafts with. When we moved to Richardson, my parents always had Organic Gardening Magazines around. They promoted reuse and repair of items over buying new items. Then I was in both the Girl Scouting and BSA Explorer programs, where the environment was front and center. Camping was always our favorite activity. I was definitely raised in a culture of caring for and appreciating our natural world.
Tell us about your staff at Keep Charlotte Beautiful.
It is just me. 😊 But I do occasionally pull the Solid Waste Division Staff into projects. They definitely step up when needed. Our board is also very active and helpful!
You received Keep America Beautiful Innovation awards in both 2020 and 2021. Tell us about those projects.
2020 Innovation (Program)-KCB was motivated to provide education through the Waste in Place program because we realized that this was a way to create long-term change and had discovered that there were very few educational standards in Florida or Charlotte County addressing environmental education. KCB approached STEM Lab teachers in elementary schools to implement the program, intending to return annually. STEM Lab is a “specials” area much like art or music, focusing on subjects in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. This class allowed us to share environmental lessons with students in each school. To provide these lessons, the teachers needed to get approval from their principals. The standards that KCB provided and the fact that these are “real world” lessons convinced the school administrations to allow our teams to work with their classes. For this project, we had an Intern from Florida Gulf Coast University, Kalyn Markey, a board member, Sheri Leibman, and a part-time employee to assist with classes. The group focused on one school per week, K-5th. After we did the first school, the teacher, Miss Clark, recommended us to others. In all, we presented to 1642 students between the end of January and the first week in March. Then COVID shut us down. Our Intern was going to be with us Spring and Summer and her graduation would be in August. Because we were shut down for in person learning, she was in danger of having to push back graduation. Then we pivoted and Kalyn started producing educational videos that parents could access on YouTube for their students.
2021 Innovation (Partnership)– Wintergarden Presbyterian Church (WPC) was ready to shut their doors but decided that their reason for existence was to feed people. They started a food pantry with another faith-based community and realized that there was a lot of waste because the produce was not at peak freshness. They wanted to have composting and a garden. That is where Keep Charlotte Beautiful (KCB) came in. We provide small grants and assist with resources to bring the cost of projects down that fall into our mission and program goals. This program also received Keep America Beautiful (KAB) AmeriCorps VISTAs whose contributions have been key in building capacity for the past three years.
When the food pantry started, the at or below poverty rate was 11%. COVID showed us how critical this project was in the coming years. Since the pandemic, Charlotte County is now at 18% according to Harry Chapin Food Bank. The pantry went from serving 45 to 348 families per week. The need to build resilience in our community became apparent. The project is now only WPC running the pantry. The pantry has gone from a garage to a fully functional drive-thru pantry. The garden now has 26 raised beds in the community garden. Some are to grow produce specifically for the pantry. There were 56 trees added to the food forest. A sensory garden going in next to the community garden, there has been a fountain built for the sound part of the garden. KCB started a homeschool class twice a month. We teach from the KAB Waste in Place lesson plans and Kid’s Gardening. The students have two beds that they can experiment with. The project was done as funds or donations came in and as needs arose. The pantry was operating out of home refrigerators and freezers. In the last year, they have been able to add a cold room to keep the produce fresher. Lowes and Home Depot stepped in with supplies for building. There are a profound number of volunteers from Florida Gulf Coast University, the high schools, scouts, and the local community as well as the KAB VISTAs, Kimberly Richie, and Shallyn Sims. Together we have not only helped to build a garden, The Garden of Eatin,’ but also a long-term relationship.
What are some other things you and the volunteers have done that you’re exceptionally proud of?
They are all amazing. Some of our cleanup groups are out there every month, even during our brutal summers. But we really love the challenge of working with students. We have completely wrapped our arms around the concept of Service Learning that we learned about at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU). Service Learning is where the students come away learning about what you do and pick up some skills in the process. Our student volunteers amaze me! This summer we had four students working at different times in our office. These students were from 4 different schools from 9th grade to their Senior year in college. They were tasked with creating a safety video for the Adopt A Road Program. I am very happy with what they came up with.
Keep America Beautiful thanks Rhonda and the volunteers of Keep Charlotte Beautiful for their continuous hard work. We’re proud to have Keep Charlotte Beautiful in the KAB family.
See the interview with Rhonda Harvey here:
Contact: Abby Turpin, Director of Communications
Keep America Beautiful®