STAMFORD, Conn. (August 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 August 2022 is Keep Ridgeland Beautiful in Mississippi.
Like our previous Affiliate of the Month awardees, Keep Ridgeland Beautiful is being recognized for the Innovation Award they received from KAB in 2020. The Keep America Beautiful Innovation Award salutes affiliates that have created innovative partnerships and programs to further the mission of Keep America Beautiful. It was also just announced this week that Keep Ridgeland Beautiful received a 2021 Innovation Award, as well.
Q&A with Keep Ridgeland Beautiful Executive Director, Jan Richardson:
How long have you been the executive director of Keep Ridgeland Beautiful?
Keep Ridgeland Beautiful was established in 2014 under the City of Ridgeland, evolving from a beautification committee. I have been the executive director (chairperson) all but one of those years; this is a volunteer position. Last November, I was hired by Keep Mississippi Beautiful as the assistant director. It has been a joy to be involved at the state level, as well.
When did your passion for taking care of the environment begin?
I was born and lived in wild, wonderful West Virginia until I was 10 years old, in a small college town called Bethany. My dad was a professor and Dean at Bethany College. Bethany is surrounded by the hills of the Allegheny Mountains and the outdoors was where we spent endless hours with friends, exploring and wandering. Love and respect for the environment saturates the soul growing up like that. My mom also is an avid environmentalist and earned a Masters in Outdoor Education when I was in high school.
Tell us about your staff at Keep Ridgeland Beautiful.
We are an all-volunteer committee appointed by our city aldermen and mayor and city aldermen. There are eight positions on the committee. We receive tremendous support from the city. They provide most of the budget for our work and we occasionally earn small grant funding. Employees from public works, recreation and parks departments, and community development provide hands-on assistance and resources with everything from our annual litter study, clean ups, school recycling programs, and beautification programs.
You received a 2020 Keep America Beautiful Innovation award. Tell us about that project and why it was important to you to complete.
Our Ridgeland Wildflower Field and Art Park transformed an empty lot at a major entrance to Ridgeland, into a 3-acre wildflower park. Keep Mississippi Beautiful has a Wildflower Trails of Mississippi program, with support by the USDA, to create pollinator-friendly spaces. Most of the wildflower seeds we planted through this program. Bees, butterflies, and birds make the field a lively habitat. So back to our project: what an ideal project to develop during the pandemic. We were able to safely work outside together, connect socially, and create a unique and special space in our city.
I have to highlight Tim Taylor from our recreation and parks department, who designed the field and continues to help us every step of the way. Favorite features are up-cycled metal art sculptures created by Mississippi artist Harry Day, depicting activities people can enjoy in Ridgeland, such as tennis, softball, gardening, and bike riding. Trails meander through the field taking visitors to each of the sculptures, which are set in landscaped berms.
A group of us from Keep Ridgeland Beautiful spend time in the field nearly every week taking care of the wildflower park. We are excited that we may be adding a mural to a retaining wall in the field. Regarding public art, we were inspired by a visit to St. Charles, Illinois where several of us attended a meeting. Memorable public art dots the banks of Fox River flowing through the city. I will add that we have enjoyed seeing that our beautified spaces are an economic driver. Ridgeland Tourism is another partner, and their office encourages people to stop at the wildflower park on their visit to our welcoming city.
Besides that project, what are some other things you and your staff and volunteers have done that you’re exceptionally proud of?
Ridgeland Recycle Ranger. Recycling Ranger is our mascot that was developed just for us. Rachel Collier, a former Keep Ridgeland Beautiful member who now works for the City of Ridgeland, took the lead on the project. Rachel, believe it or not, had mascot experience in high school and brought Recycle Ranger’s personality to life. He is a one-of-a-kind superhero who has interacted with thousands of people at events and schools. With the pandemic, Recycle Ranger hasn’t gotten out as often as he used to. However, he has started making appearances again – https://fb.watch/eaRf6gujRc/. We are also proud that we won the William “Bill” Nash at the 2016 National Conference, and that we had a group of students who worked with us win an award at the conference, as well. Additionally, at the state level, we have had five of our members win state-level volunteer of the year awards and our mayor won Mayor of the Year several years ago, as well, for his stalwart support of our mission.
What’s going on in 2022 for Keep Ridgeland Beautiful that you want everyone to know about?
We began a partnership with Gabrielle Mills, a biology teacher at our city high school, Ridgeland High, who started a school garden program. She involved all of her biology students (over 130 students) and we were delighted that the program was student led as far as budgeting, planning, and designing the raised beds and garden design. We were able to provide much of the starter material for the garden and enjoyed time with the students as well. The program earned a Keep Mississippi Beautiful Education Program Award this year.
We also planted hundreds of daffodil bulbs along the network of multi-use trails that crisscross the city, parks, and intersections this spring, thanks to bulb donations from Keep Mississippi Beautiful. In the last month, we have partnered with a church to work at a local park and assisted a neighborhood with a cleanup along a historic road, Old Agency Road. As an aside, I brought along the scale from the KAB Litter Kit, and we were able to collect data on the weight of what we collected! Everyone on the cleanup team loved that. Many thanks to KAB for this tool kit!
And our Zinnia Fields Forever field is in full bloom near City Hall, and the public is welcome to cut a bouquet and take it home.
Keep America Beautiful thanks Jan and the volunteers of Keep Ridgeland Beautiful for their continuous hard work. We’re proud to have Keep Ridgeland Beautiful in the KAB family.
See the interview with Jan Richardson here:
Contact: Abby Turpin, Director of Communications
Keep America Beautiful®