Campaign engages community in a sustainable future
Though it was just started in January, the grassroots campaign Sustain Mid-Maine is already making headway in the greening of Waterville.
Created to "conserve our resources, sustain a healthy environment and promote economic prosperity for the Mid-Maine region," Sustain Mid-Maine works to ensure a green future for Maine, according to the campaign's website.
The group formed in January 2009 following a community conference entitled "The Community Catalyst for Energy Conservation and Sustainability." The three-day affair was designed to "engage area citizens in addressing their energy conservation and sustainability goals," and was put together by the Waterville Sustainability Committee. Over 60 participants--running the gamut from college students and professors to representatives from local businesses and nonprofit groups--developed a proposal and model for Sustain Mid-Maine. All attendees signed off on the vision.
The impetus for this conference, though, has its history a few years in the past. In 2007, several Waterville residents recognized that the town could be doing more to be green. Noting the wealth of knowledge on the Hill, the group approached City Manager Mike Roy '74, suggesting that Waterville hire a student to organize a sustainability committee and to develop an approach toward the greening of Waterville.
Steve Erario '10, an environmental studies major, was their man. "He's the brains of this outfit," Linda Woods, interim coordinator of Sustain Mid-Maine, said of Erario. He began a summer internship in 2007, funded by an anonymous donor, and the internships have continued every summer since, with a few additional students participating each summer.
Everything came together at the January 2009 conference. The group walked away from the workshop with the fundamental structure for what would become Sustain Mid-Maine. The organization is made up of five teams: Energy, Education, Waste and Recycling, Local Foods and Transportation. Each team focuses on teaching and designing programs specific to their area of concentration.
"Each team has phenomenal accomplishments," Woods said.
The Local Foods group, for example, opened a community garden on North Street on July 12. Waterville residents can reserve a plot for a minimum donation of $10.
The Transportation team is putting together a map of public transportation routes, park-and-rides--"a place where you can leave your vehicle while you carpool,"--local hiking trails, and more, according to Woods.
In addition, the team is working with the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program (KVCAP) to bring a regular bus route to the area. They hope that this service will go into effect in 2010.
Perhaps the most exciting project, according to both Woods and Erario, is the Energy team's recent collaboration with the towns of Waterville and Winslow to draft and submit a grant proposal asking for $170,000 to help residents weatherize their homes. The money would come from federal funding that was allocated to Maine under the government stimulus package.
"This [grant] is an example of how a volunteer group can really make an impact," Erario said.
"We have, basically, no budget," Woods said, so a grant like this is key. She is the only paid employee, and she is paid as a part-time worker; her pay comes from the anonymous donor who also funds the summer internships.
Additionally, the campaign draws from its highly talented volunteers for cheap or even free programming. "We kind of beg, borrow and steal anything we can that's free," she said.
This summer's interns put together a survey for Kennebec County residents, which has provided the group with invaluable information on how actively green households are, and determining what people are interested in learning about.
Woods said that while past projects have been quite remarkable, she still wishes Sustain Mid-Maine was reaching a wider group of people.
"I want to reach out to the people who are either the naysayers [of climate change] or the people who, say, have read a little bit about composting but want to learn more," she said.
Even with its publicity in local newspapers and frequent public events, "we're having a hard time reaching a wider range of people." Right now, she said, "we're preaching to the choir."
Erario, however, sees the light. "The group was only started in January," he said. "It's just been fairly recently that there's been contact with the community."
He has seen progress. For example, after setting up the community garden, Sustain Mid-Maine started receiving phone calls from residents interested in getting more gardens around town, especially in their own communities.
Additionally, Erario has been pleased and proud of the College's involvement with the project. "I just think it's pretty cool how Colby has, in many ways, helped to drive this downtown," he said.