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 October 2023 is Keep Blackstone Valley Beautiful (KBVB).
Keep Blackstone Valley Beautiful is being recognized for the Innovation Award they received from KAB in 2022. The Keep America Beautiful Innovation Award salutes affiliates that have created innovative partnerships and programs to further the mission of KAB.
Q&A with Keep Blackstone Valley Beautiful (KBVB)
Director Donna Kaehler:
How long have you been involved with Keep Blackstone Valley Beautiful and what role(s) have you held?
I’ve been with Keep Blackstone Valley Beautiful for about six years. Before that, I was a recycling coordinator in one of our 39 communities, North Smithfield, Rhode Island. When I started as a part-time recycling coordinator, I just thought, ‘Oh, everyone will want to recycle’. But I learned many residents did not understand proper recycling, why we (North Smithfield) wanted to recycle all we can, and how it benefits the town.
After that, I started working with another community, Cumberland. Both North Smithfield and Cumberland are part of the Keep Blackstone Valley Beautiful network, which collaborates with 10 Rhode Island communities. I attended the meetings as a representative of these towns, learning about various programs KAB gets involved with, not just recycling, but also beautification and ending litter. When the position of Director of Keep Blackstone Valley Beautiful became available, I moved into that role.
When did your passion for the environment and environmental stewardship begin?
Donna: I always cared about the environment, but I think it started when I met my husband. We did a lot more outdoor activities like camping. When we first married, we traveled across the country for three months in a two-man tent, hiking, and visiting the national parks. Once you spend time outdoors, you begin to realize the beauty of animals and nature and begin to understand how everything is interconnected.
This year’s Walk & Clean Up the World event in Lincoln.
You received a Keep America Beautiful Innovation award in 2022. Tell us about this project.
Donna: Well, it’s interesting. Rhode Island is a very small state, but the neat part about is we feel like a family. Keep Blackstone Valley Beautiful is currently the only affiliate in the state. We work with the Blackstone Valley communities, which comprise of 10 communities.
The Mayor of one of the communities (Cumberland) that I previously worked with, is now our Governor for the state. Talking with him, he wanted to expand these programs beyond the initial 10 communities. With that in mind, we wrote a state website for litter and how we hope to end litter, which was an innovative step. We want the entire state of Rhode Island to have a place to find information about how to get involved, what it’s all about, and why it matters. I think environmental information is out there, but it’s so hard to find. That was the goal of the state website and it’s been a great partnership in building the network of the Governor, the First Lady, state agencies, and community groups. We are building a 401 Clean Team and want everyone to be part of it. That’s the only way, I feel, that we’re going to make a difference. We can’t do it individually and we want to do it as a team
RI’s First Lady Mrs. Susan McKee, KBVB, and our pirate visit Providence’s Bailey School and read “Look Out for Litter” to their students
Are there any other accomplishments you would like to celebrate or someone you would like to highlight?
Donna: Our very important volunteer is our First Lady, Mrs. Susan McKee. She has been our spokesperson for the litter website and actively participates in litter cleanups, just like everyone else. Our governor does too; he has been picking up litter for years and always takes part. In his community, there’s an event for Earth Day called ‘Yellow Bag Day,’ which sends the message that everyone can and should get involved. It’s not just an official saying this is someone else’s responsibility; it’s all of ours.
One thing I’ve learned with KAB and the behavior change is that we need to send the message that it’s important to end litter and it’s important to make that message known. As part of the website, we have a pledge, that municipalities are taking the pledge stating why it’s important to their community to end litter.
She (the First Lady) is our champion volunteer, but we have a lot of other champion volunteers, too. Some come out and help out in communities they don’t even live in. At a cleanup, I always ask who’s participated in a cleanup before, and I find that 60 percent are first-time volunteers.
We started a program called #RIMillionPieces. We have roughly a million residents in Rhode Island, and we’re asking everyone to pick up one piece of litter. Imagine if everyone picked up one piece of litter. And we believe, if we get people to pick up litter, they might not litter.
Is there anything else you would like to add about what’s happening at Keep Blackstone Valley Beautiful?
Donna: I came up with a program called “Tree Hugger Tuesdays”. It’s an after-work cleanup/meetup. So, we were partnering with different restaurants or organizations. They would host the meetings and offer something like ice cream or beer. This gave us the opportunity to conduct cleanups with new volunteers and cover roads that might not be addressed through community efforts. So, we’re out there on busier roads, as adults only, cleaning up for about an hour after work and then having the meet-up to get to meet new friends and volunteers. The restaurant might give us some pizza or something like that. KBVB helps them by cleaning the area around their business, and they’re helping us by making it fun for the volunteers.
About Keep Blackstone Valley Beautiful:
Keep Blackstone Valley Beautiful combines education, volunteer programs and a network to unite citizens, businesses and governments. Our goal is to encourage those living or visiting our area to understand their environmental impact and to help by reducing waste, preventing litter and assisting in a number of ways to beautify the area we call home. Together, we can build not only regional, but also national success in caring for our environment.
About Keep America Beautiful®:
Keep America Beautiful®, the nation’s leading community improvement nonprofit organization, inspires and educates people to take action every day to improve and beautify their community environment. Established in 1953, Keep America Beautiful® strives to End Littering, Improve Recycling, and Beautify America’s Communities. We believe everyone has a right to live in a clean, green, and beautiful community, and shares a responsibility to contribute to that vision. The organization is driven by the work and passion of 700 Keep America Beautiful® affiliates, millions of volunteers, and the collaborative support of corporate partners, social and civic service organizations, academia, municipalities, elected officials, and individuals. Join us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Linkedin, and YouTube. Donate and take action at kab.org.
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