This article was written by Angie Weber, Volunteer Coordinator & Rachel Witt, Executive Director of the South Grand Community Improvement District. Read all the articles in the Lessons & Partnerships in Community & Economic Development series.
Today, more than ever in our changing climate, eco-volunteerism is needed to inspire, motivate, and teach people in our community the positive impact they make on the environment. From smelling the roses to smelling the bee balm, it is an important tool that encourages people from diverse backgrounds to learn new skills, engage in environmental advocacy, and provide a resource to improve mental health.
One way to foster eco-volunteerism is through your local special taxing district. For example, The South Grand Community Improvement District located in the heart of South City in the City of Saint Louis MO has adopted such a program. They currently have native plants and trees installed in 28 garden areas along seven blocks, a pocket park and a free parking lot in the District. These spaces are maintained through a collaboration between a native landscaping company that is contracted and ongoing volunteer engagement. The cost to maintain native landscapes adds up quickly. Volunteers play a role in educating and inspiring others while also reducing the overall operation costs.
This volunteer program is known as the South Grand EcoCrew and is managed by a volunteer coordinator that is contracted for their service. They hold eight to ten events throughout the year to recruit volunteers for various landscape stewardship tasks that include planting, mulching, weeding, and picking up litter. Events are promoted via website content, social media, e-newsletter, and word of mouth. All volunteers receive an EcoCrew t-shirt along with complimentary treats from local restaurants immediately following each event. A paid volunteer coordinator to oversee the South Grand EcoCrew reduces the maintenance costs by 190 hours.
The EcoCrew program started in 2018 and has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from both the volunteers that help out and the users of the District. The EcoCrew volunteers enjoy the hands-on experience of being good stewards of the Earth along with the networking and social opportunities that have been cultivated through the program. The EcoCrew teaches their volunteers new skills as well as fosters environmental advocacy. Volunteers are informed about other local initiatives taking place to get involved. For instance, the volunteers are educated on the importance of native plants and informed about workshops to attend to grow their skills and knowledge on sustainable practices.
The EcoCrew also has an impact on mental health. By connecting with others’ passion and interest in gardening, it fosters social interaction, which helps the community’s wellbeing. Also, when visitors see the EcoCrew maintain the district it has a symbiotic relationship with their own mental health.
Visitors to South Grand notice the well-maintained native landscape and become better connected to nature as a result. They routinely stop to view the flowers, take photos, and read the educational signs that are posted in the gardens along the street. Business owners appreciate the time and attention that the volunteers have invested to care for the biodiverse garden areas that are located outside of their storefronts. They all see firsthand how the collaborative efforts of the EcoCrew partnership not only benefit the environment but enhance the overall wellness and quality of life for their community as well.
By educating people about the positive impact of eco-volunteerism in their communities, we are all playing a role to make the environment around us better for future generations. Together we are all creating the best asset and ensuring sustainability for generations to come, by just taking a moment to stop and smell the “bee balm.”
Angie has over 10 years of experience in the fields of conservation planning, volunteer management, and environmental consulting. In her current role, Angie provides in-depth assistance on the planning and installation of urban native landscapes and engaging volunteers in the stewardship of those spaces. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies and Biology from Drury University and earned a Master of Science in Biology with an emphasis in Ecology, Evolution and Systematics from St. Louis University.
Rachel Witt is the Executive Director of the South Grand Community Improvement District. Graduate from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Geography, minor in Sociology and certification in Nonprofit Management. Master’s in public administration from Widener University emphasis in local government and economic development. Connect with Rachel on Linkedin or Email.