STAMFORD, Conn. (May 17, 2023) – Keep America Beautiful® is proud to announce the May 2023 Affiliate of the Month – Keep Irving Beautiful in Texas. In this KAB initiative, we feature the great work being done in our network of 700 certified affiliates, but also recognize affiliates for their innovation. The Keep America Beautiful Innovation Award salutes affiliates that have created innovative partnerships and programs to further the mission of Keep America Beautiful.
Keep Irving Beautiful is being recognized for its modern approach to conducting its role in the Great American Cleanup, which also included community engagement skits. Congrats to the Keep Irving Beautiful staff on a job well done!
Q&A with Keep Irving Beautiful Team members Julie Schmidt and Richard Hose
How long have you been involved with Keep Irving Beautiful and what role(s) have you held?
I’ve been serving as the Program Coordinator for about 15 years.
I’m the executive director for Keep Irving Beautiful, and I’ve been here just about the same amount of time. And as a staff of two, we’re responsible for everything; we’re writers, we are photographers, we’re interviewers or interviewees, we are event planners and whatever it takes to operate all those programs that we do.
When did your passion for the environment and environmental stewardship begin?
My passion for enjoying the outdoors and conservation started when I was a child. I was born and partially raised in the country, so I’ve always had a love for the outdoors, whether it’s hiking or fishing or hunting or doing all those wonderful outdoor activities as a professional.
My love for the environment started when I was running an environmental learning center here in Texas and serving as board member for KIB. When the learning center closed, I was offered a temporary position to work on a project that was funded through a Keep America Beautiful grant and we grew the organization into what it is today.
You received a Keep America Beautiful Innovation award in 2021 & 22. Tell us about those projects.
The first award was for our 2021 Great American Cleanup – here in Texas, it’s called the “Don’t mess with Texas Trash Off.”
Due to Covid, we did not have any major citywide events. The GAC was really the first big city event in Irving post-pandemic. The innovative component about our event that year was we added a virtual option. Volunteers could either join us in person, or they could do their own cleanup if they weren’t comfortable being around large groups of people. They could then report via social media, so we got lots of pictures and reports using the hashtag #IrvingTrashOff2021.
We did a lot of things at the event that followed social distancing guidelines. We limited it to 100 people, which normally has 200-300 people. We had staggered sign-in and lunch times, with 25 people at each slot, so people were not congregated together, and it all worked out quite well. We were able to follow all the Dallas County and Irving City guidelines while still doing our cleanup. We used color-coded tickets, so it made it easier for them.
The 2022 award was for our environmental skit based on our mascots. One of them is Kirby the Toucan and his sidekick Buddy Blue Bag, who represents recycling. We also have the LitterBug, who transforms into a beautiful butterfly (the “RecycleBug”) because of Kirby and Buddy Blue Bag educating the litterbug to quit littering and to also recycle what they pick up.
We engaged with the kids at all the rec center summer camps that year and performed that skit educating them about the importance of not littering. We’ve also performed the skits in front of our senior citizens as well.
We’ve gotten a positive reaction from both groups!
This script was originally written by students from the ExxonMobil Summer Intern Program who worked with us. The script has evolved and got better over the years as we’ve learned more.
What are some other things you and your staff and volunteers have done that you’re exceptionally proud of?
Well, we love planting trees in North Texas! The City of Irving created a tree farm 10 years ago, and roughly 95% of the trees on the farm have been planted by our incredible KIB volunteers.
Trees grow at the tree farm for several years until they are large enough to replace trees in parks and public spaces that have aged out, suffered damage from freezes, droughts, high winds or storms, or been harmed by disease.
We also plant trees in parks and public spaces, but one of the challenges is irrigation. We work closely with the Urban Forestry Team to ensure that trees are planted where irrigation is already in place. We’ve engaged our young residents by taking tree seedlings to the summer campers, so they get their hands dirty, plant their own tree seedlings, take them home, care for them, and then hopefully transplant those into their own yards.
Another program we’re proud of is our Adopt-a-Spot program, which has been around since before KIB started. It was a grassroots neighborhood project in the late 1980’s, begun by a woman who got her neighbors involved in picking up litter.
Currently we have 97 adoptive locations, with schools representing the largest percentage of adopters. We also have faith groups, companies, neighborhood organizations or individual families that adopt a location and they pledge to keep it through a cleanup at least once a month. They report to us each month with how many volunteers, how many hours, bags of trash and bags of recyclables.
This program accounts for about half of our total volunteer hours per year, roughly 4,000 individuals. Each spot is maintained on an annual basis, and we have some people that have been doing it since the very beginning, which is more than 30 years. It’s an awesome program.
We track all that data and when I look back at the end of the year, I’m always amazed at the results. We couple this program with the Keep America Beautiful litter index. I’m convinced that that program makes a huge impact on the visual appearance of litter in our community.
We’ve adopted nursing homes and so during Christmas and Valentines Day and reached out to the community to engage them in their support. To date, we’ve distributed hundreds of cards and letters that were delivered to these nursing homes to bring cheer and joy.
We’ve also worked with groups to provide provisions (blankets, toiletries, etc…) to homeless and at-risk populations in the community. Our hope and goals are to provide support, resources, and opportunities to ensure we all live in a community that is healthy and vibrant.