Multiple agencies in Liberty County cleaned up at state and national award ceremonies that recognize community conservation efforts.
Keep Liberty Beautiful and Button Gwinnett Elementary School both were honored for their efforts this week at a Keep America Beautiful conference in New Orleans, and county recycling coordinator Brenda Hearn was recognized last month alongside the others at a Keep Georgia Beautiful conference.
Keep Liberty Beautiful received a first-place state award and a second-place national award for its stormwater pollution education programming, as well as a third-place state affiliate award and a second-place affiliate award nationally, and a third-place national award for its cigarette-litter reduction initiative.
“We’re only going to be as healthy as our world is around us, and certainly our waterways around us,” KLB Executive Director Sara Ann Swida said, explaining the value of conservation. “We should be stewards of our earth, and that means we should take care of it well enough that the generations who follow us can enjoy how clean and beautiful it is.”
The stormwater education program is an Environmental Protection Division requirement in Walthourville, Allenhurst, Hinesville, Flemington and in parts of Liberty and Long counties, she said. Through columns in the Courier, displays at several locations and tabling at community events, Swida and her team are able to educate residents about how litter and debris can affect their water supplies.
“We’re trying to make people realize there are things that we do every day without thinking of the consequences,” she said. “Pouring old motor oil down a storm drain, littering roads and highways, and even over-fertilizing our lawns.”
Button Gwinnett received first-place recognition at the state level and second-place nationally for its “Paperless Days” program.
Initiated by previous curriculum coordinator Merilee Cox in 2009, the program aims to reduce the amount of paper the school uses while encouraging teachers to find more creative ways to engage students in the classroom.
During the 2009-10 school year, the school saved an estimated 21,987 sheets, or 44 reams, of paper. They increased their efforts in the next year and saved and estimated 35,000 sheets, or 70 reams.
The school now holds an average of two paperless days per month, current curriculum coordinator Beverly Faircloth said. During the days, teachers only are allowed to use paper that has been recycled, and only for creative construction rather than for worksheets.
“The children are excited to learn. The children come in, they see the paperless day banner and their eyes just light up,” she said. “If students are excited about learning, they’re going to be engaged, and when you’re engaged, you learn more.”
The program is a learning experience for both students and teachers, Faircloth said.
“The whole point is to save paper, she said. “But the biggest point is to get them thinking outside the box and get the kids participating hands-on … because they have been doing this for a while, they’re now in the habit of thinking of paperless ways to teach and introduce ideas.”
Though the office staff and administration cannot abandon paper altogether, the initiative has inspired them to reduce their consumption in other ways, Faircloth said. Instead of sending fliers out to spread information to teachers, many items are now stored on a central server, and the school is also conscientious about sending home announcements on half-sheets of paper, rather than full ones.
County recycling coordinator Brenda Hearn, who was recognized as the state public employee of the year by Keep Georgia Beautiful, said she was surprised to hear that she was being recognized for her work.
“It was a blessing. You know, I never expected it because I do what I love. I do it because I enjoy it, and I never pay attention to people paying attention to what I do,” she said. Since Hearn took on the position in July 2007, the number of people recycling has grown immensely, and the number of businesses that participate has almost tripled, she said.
Hearn and another employee oversee the county’s 12 recycling centers. During the week, they consolidate items to a central point in Hinesville, and they make deliveries to the Fort Stewart recycling center anywhere from four to six times per month, she said.
But Hearn has not always been so proactive about conservation efforts, she said. “I was always into it and familiar with it, but now that I’m working with it, I see how important it is to keep the stuff out of our landfills. The stuff can be reused. It’s important for our environment.”