CAC AmeriCorps & VISTA

Since the summer of 2015 I have had the privilege of serving as the Program Director of CAC AmeriCorps, a program of the Knoxville-Knox County Community Action Committee (CAC).  This opportunity has been the realization of over a decade of involvement in national service, first as a member, then as a grant reviewer and site supervisor.  Through this role I have had the unique opportunity to nurture the talent and ideals of members while building capacity in the communities we serve.  Through this national service framework, members have earned over $760,000 for college and gained important experience through a broad range of issue-driven projects.

At the end of the day, it’s about helping people find purpose and focus in being part of something greater than themselves.

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Tennessee Conference for Volunteerism and Service Learning, 2017

During my tenure I have leveraged $2,640,000 in federal funding and local match, with an 8% increase in funding during my first year and then an additional 11% during my second.  I diversified programming to represent all branches of national service including AmeriCorps State/National, VISTA and NCCC and have grown service opportunities through CAC AmeriCorps to their highest levels since the programs creation in 1994 allowing for 49 full time member service years (MSY), or over 83,300 hours of national service annually maintaining a 100% recruitment and an average 93.5% retention rate.  In addition, I have provided direct supervision to 2 staff, 1 VISTA Leader and oversight and accountability for up to 49 members ranging in age (18 to 55) and experience (high school to PHD) at 31 partner sites in Knox, Blount, Anderson and Sevier Counties in East Tennessee.

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2015-2016 Corps, Staff & Alums at the Knoxville Botanical Gardens.

Through these opportunities, I have the opportunity to watch members push themselves to do remarkable things during their term(s).  From a quantitative perspective, our members manage thousands of volunteers on an annual basis extending the value of the AmeriCorps impact in the region by an estimated 10,000 volunteer hours, or approximately $210,000 in in-kind volunteer serve.  From a qualitative perspective, members tutor urban youth, provide job training, teach children about watershed science and work together to build capacity in our community to address important social and environmental issues.

18278133_807115812776070_4080947234669531229_oIf you are a part of a community organization addressing environmental issues, economic or food security issues related to poverty, or improving infrastructure here in East Tennessee and would like to partner with CAC AmeriCorps to host one or more AmeriCorps, AmeriCorps VISTA or AmeriCorps*NCCC members, please do not hesitate to contact me.  If there is a community need that you see going unmet and would like to discuss how CAC AmeriCorps members could be utilized to address it, contact me and if you are looking to find an avenue to make a difference in the world around you through national service, get in touch.  We are almost always recruiting.

Visit CAC AmeriCorps on the web here, Facebook here, and Instagram here.

Rainy Day Brush-Off

422436_321160404599551_1464547533_nA program of the Water Quality Form, The Rainy Day Brush-Off was an artistic rain barrel program that operated between 2008-2012 and I had the opportunity to participate in between 2009-2012.  This program involved the efforts of representatives of the City of Knoxville, Knox County, Town of Farragut and the Water Quality Forum.  For the 2009 and 2010 events, in addition to helping facilitate the program, I also created two artistic rain barrels based on themes of repetition, symbiosis, and existentialism.

In 2012 Parci Gibson (Knox County), John Shubzda (City of Knoxville) and myself gave an internationally attended presentation titled “The Rainy Day Brush Off: Initiating a Successful Public Outreach Campaign” facilitated by the EPA.

1917972_1027552948745_7865791_nThe results of the Rainy Day Brush-Off Artistic Rain Barrel Competition included the distribution of over 2,500 rain barrels in the Knox County area while engaging local artists in the creation of over 115 unique artistic rain barrels.  At 55 gallons each, this resulted in an increase of an estimated 137,500 gallons of harvesting capacity in the community reducing runoff and improving water quality.

Tennessee Stormwater Association

12654609_1051281028267148_3910651657596397251_nDuring my time with the Town of Farragut, I spent several years as a Board Member of the Tennessee Stormwater Association (TNSA) where I first served as Treasurer for three consecutive years and then as Vice President during my final year.  During this period I oversaw approximately $400,000 in assets and worked with the IRS and state regulators to secure TNSA’s 501(c)3 Status and resolve several outstanding tax challenges.  In addition, I worked with the conference planning committee to organize the 2012, 2013 and 2014 Annual Conference as well as provided substantial support to the East Tennessee MS4 working group and East Tennessee Development Symposium which consistently attracted over 300 participants.  TNSA successfully brought professionals together from all aspects of the regulated community under the Clean Water Act from stormwater program administrators, to state and federal regulators and representatives from the private sector.  This strength in connecting diverse stakeholders combined with state-wide marketing efforts though the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters (TAB), Green Infrastructure Grants and other direct MS4 program support elements laid the foundation for a sustainable non-profit professional organization.  A long way from TNSA’s humble roots as an advisory board to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

10668827_781862605208993_1432684072896985232_oDuring my final year on the board, I had the pleasure to see several years of board effort culminate in the selection of the organization’s first self-sustaining Executive Director, Charlene Desha, who had previously served as the Executive Director of Keep Blount Beautiful in Knoxville, TN.

To learn more about the Tennessee Stormwater Association, feel free to visit the website or facebook.

Creative Stormwater Manager

Text from an article originally published in the July 2015 edition of APWA Reporter.

In 2011 I had been working to administer the Town of Farragut’s Stormwater Matters program for about three years.  During this period I focused primarily on learning the foundations of what a water quality professional ought to know.  I started out with construction stormwater inspection and enforcement and moved into illicit discharge detection and elimination, municipal good housekeeping and the rest of the NPDES program areas.  After learning the ropes, thanks to the support of countless informal mentors, I wanted to pursue a credential from a respected organization that communicated that I was competent and invested in the profession.  More importantly, I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.

I come from what some might consider an “atypical” background for a stormwater professional.  Having graduated in 2005 with a Bachelor of Fine Art in Studio Art, I hadn’t really considered working in the environmental sector until 2006 when I served my first term of AmeriCorps with AmeriCorps*NCCC.  It was the year after Hurricane Katrina had laid waste to the coastal southeast and I spent the bulk of my service year conducting disaster recovery operations and natural resource management in Louisiana and Mississippi.  It was then that I realized how much I enjoyed working to clean, protect and restore the great outdoors and I would go on to complete a Master of Science in Environmental Policy & Management in 2008 consciously shifting my career focus away from introspective aesthetic inquiry to community-based environmental impacts.  Nonetheless, my professional foundation was, and still is, rooted in visual communications.  This background provides a distinctly different skill set from one in engineering or one of the biological, chemical or geological sciences.  The CSM credential provided an opportunity for me to demonstrate that my capabilities had grown to reflect a level of proficiency in these areas and that these areas, including visual communication, are not necessarily exclusive from one another.

In 2011, I also found myself inspired by a community partner who had invited me to the annual Halls Outdoor Classroom Celebration in North Knoxville.  Teachers, students and members of the surrounding neighborhoods came out in large numbers to celebrate the space, enjoy nature and have a good time.  What I saw was a clear convergence of the arts and sciences and a broad range of partners and I began advocating for an Outdoor Classroom and Water Quality Demonstration Space in Farragut as a means of educating the community about water quality and enhancing civic engagement through service learning.  In 2014 the Outdoor Classroom was built.  The space features numerous permeable systems, rainwater harvesting and has started to become one of the most dynamic avenues through which our water quality program has the opportunity to interact with our residents, visitors and business owners.

What the CSM represents to me has changed as my career has evolved.  In 2011 it was a way for me to demonstrate to myself and my peers that I could manage a water quality program effectively.  In 2015 the CSM has come to serve as a reminder of the convergence of disciplines necessary to get things done for my community and its water resources – to bring to bear the best of what I have to offer and to identify the productive talents of others and match them to the appropriate pieces of my small, but important, piece of the puzzle.  To be a CSM demands that you not only be certified, but that you be creative to solve the multidisciplinary challenges posed by your work.  Creative Stormwater Manager.

Regardless of your credential, title or role in water quality, you will not likely be able to solve the puzzle on your own.  Stormwater is in many regards a technical scientific discipline, but even more so, it is a discipline of purpose.  This type of work deserves a passionate application of the artistry that you practice, be it biology or basket weaving (contrasting arts selected for alliterative impact, you’re welcome), and the CSM is an excellent way to allow water quality professionals of broad talents and capabilities to demonstrate a standardized level of competence in their field in the areas of clean water policy, engineering and program administration while committing to a standard of excellence through continuing education and the ethical pursuit of excellence in their work to protect, enhance and restore water quality in their communities.  Go out and do good work.

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Water Pollution is Hazardous to River Unicorns

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In 2012 the Corporation for National and Community Service held a photo and video competition to celebrate AmeriCorps Week with the theme ‘AmeriCorps Works.’  The rules were simple.  For the photo competition, submissions had to include the AmeriCorps logo and have a tagline that told the story of the image.  Then Between March 10th and July 15th, 2012, accepted submissions would vie for cash prizes based on who could leverage the most votes on their submission.

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431087_2479435764908_100188251_nThis seemed like a great opportunity to combine my enthusiasm for Photoshop and  the penchant for whimsy of my current CAC AmeriCorps member, Joshua Cunningham.  With the support of Stormwater Matters intern, Jessica Davis, we spent a bit of time on Turkey Creek in the Town of Farragut near a water accessible historical mill wall.  Wearing our waders and armed with a unicorn head mask and “Trash Ball” Christmas Ornament from Trash Collective Artist, Katie Walberg, we played around a bit with perspective and Josh standing in front of some pretty aggressively flowing currents while we got the imagery just right.  Then I fiddled with the composition which eventually yielded an image that would come to be title “Water Pollution is Hazardous to River Unicorns.”  The value argument that would accompany it in the competition would read:

Taking a dive into the whimsical, this image was created during AmeriCorps week as a PR piece noting AmeriCorps’ effort’s in our local water quality program and promoting several stream cleanup programs. The narrative that accompanied this image was as follows:

“Water Pollution is Hazardous to River Unicorn’s as well as fish, birds and people. AmeriCorps plays a vital role in keeping our streams, rivers and lakes clean here in Farragut and across the United States.

For opportunities for Stream Cleanups in the Town of Farragut, please contact Josh at americorps@townoffarragut.org. River Rescue is coming up in the near future and our Adopt-A-Stream program is always looking for citizens interested in protecting our local water resources.”

Not necessarily the most obvious image to represent AmeriCorps as a whole, but certainly a whimsical way to interpret a local environmental issue and draw attention to AmeriCorps’ role in addressing it.

In the circumstance that prize money is awarded for this image, it will go towards implementing an on-the-ground water quality project in the Town of Farragut, TN to be coordinated by our AmeriCorps Service member at that time.

Fun fact, the competition ended up leveraging the vote and commentary of celebrity Jerry Seltzer, also known as “The Commissioner”, the second and final owner of the original Roller Derby League (the first was Jerry’s father, Leo Seltzer), a league once broadcast on 120 television stations in the US and Canada.  His take on the piece?

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206255_10151248359943973_1119643887_nIn addition, by engaging a national network, we were able to leverage another 2.7 or so thousand votes resulting in 1st place win out of 256 entries and $2,000 that went to a project at Hardin Valley Academy to lay the groundwork for an Outdoor Classroom Space on their campus.   This has become one of my favorite examples of how a creative concept can be leveraged to draw attention to a meaningful issue and create a tangible impact in the community we live in.

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Thank you to Roy Arthur for this photo from the Hardin Valley event.

St Johns River Water Management District

Between the fall of 2007 and winter of 2008 I spent 6 months interning with the St Johns River Water Management District in Palatka, FL.  I worked directly under Palmer Kinser, the head of the environmental sciences division, where I was responsible for georeferencing historical aeriel photography of the SJRWMD into ESRI’s ArcMap software.1929537_12732198972_5499_n  In addition, I supported a small team conducting a water withdrawal study that resulted in a professional paper titled Alternative Water Supply Cumulative Impact Assessment Interim Report.  My role in this study primarily involved supporting the field crew and providing visual documentation of the study.  This was my first real semi-technical role in the environmental sector and served as the capstone project of my Master of Science in Environmental Policy & Management.