The Niceville Walmart has granted CBA $1000 to further our mission to improve swimmable, fishable waterways in our community. Without local stakeholders, individuals, and businesses, we would not be able to reach over 2,500 students each month, build living shorelines across the bay, monitor over 130 water quality sites, and so much more.
By receiving this grant, we are part of a long history of Walmart’s commitment to giving back to the communities where they operate. In fact, Mrs. Helen Walton used to say “It’s not what you gather, but what you scatter that tells what kind of life you have lived.”
Okaloosa Gas has granted CBA $3000 to support the Lewis School’s Grasses in Classes curriculum during the 2018-2019 school year.
Grasses in Classes raises awareness and individual knowledge of local ecosystems through first-hand field experiences and in-class instruction. With funding through Okaloosa Gas, Grasses in Classes students will tend salt marsh nurseries throughout the school year and receive monthly education on local estuarine topics that meet Florida’s state science standards from CBA staff and AmeriCorps NWF Environmental Stewards. Periodically, the schoolchildren at the Lewis School will split the grasses to increase the nursery stock. The program instills a love of local habitat and restores shoreline.
Okaloosa Gas believes the vitality of their business depends on the health and well-being of the communities where they live and work. Each year they fund a variety of nonprofit organizations and collaborate with their employees to provide additional volunteer support.
“Okaloosa Gas recognizes the importance of restoring our local waterways and keeping our environment clean for future generations,” says Eddie Springle, Vice President of Marketing and Customer Service, “A key part of this is to educate today’s youth on ways to protect and maintain the ecosystem.”
He continues, “We are pleased to sponsor the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance’s Grasses in Classes program at Lewis School. This hands-on, environmental education program gives students a role in the restoration efforts in Choctawhatchee Bay throughout the school year and teaches how their work helps the local habitat and assists shoreline restoration.”
“Historically it’s been more difficult for smaller schools like Lewis to receive funding for unique curricula like Grasses in Classes,” explains Alison McDowell, Director of CBA. “With this generous sponsorship from Okaloosa Gas we will be able to bring fifth graders to the Choctawhatchee Bay shoreline for a real restoration project.”
The Northwest Florida Environmental Stewards have been selected and awarded best program of the year out of 38 Florida AmeriCorps teams. This is the second time the program has been recognized.
A program under the Northwest Florida State College Foundation, the AmeriCorps team works with the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance to build living shorelines and educate students in elementary, middle, and high school, as well as participate in restoration work for local Florida State Parks. Since 2014, AmeriCorps NWF Environmental Stewards have built or restored over 100 acres of coastal habitat.
In addition to their restoration and education goals, AmeriCorps inspires volunteers from around Okaloosa and Walton Counties, as well as alternative spring breakers, to make a difference. In 2017-2018 alone, they worked with over 550 volunteers who served 1420 hours on reef building, coastal clean-ups, and outreach events.
“This is such an honor to be awarded Program of the Year out of 38 Florida programs,” says Laurie Von Kaenel, Director of the AmeriCorps team, “I am so proud of the 2017/18 AmeriCorps members for their hard work and dedication to making a positive impact in our communities.” She continues, “Great appreciation and thanks to Volunteer Florida, NWFSC, CBA and Okaloosa and Walton County school districts and Florida State Parks at Grayton for your support and dedication to making the NWF Environmental Stewards program stellar, I appreciate all of you!”
The AmeriCorps NWF Environmental Stewards are funded through the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and overseen by Volunteer Florida, the lead agency for volunteerism and national service in Florida. Volunteer Florida’s mission is to strengthen Florida’s communities through national service, fostering volunteerism and leveraging resources which is supported by the Florida Governor’s Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service. Though most AmeriCorps programs across the United States have one central focus, this chapter is unique because each year members strive to both educate young students about their local ecosystems as well as improve that habitat through living shorelines and invasive species removal.
For more information, contact AmeriCorps Northwest Florida Environmental Stewards Director Laurie Von Kaenel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Only July 26th, 2018, CBA staff and AmeriCorps Northwest Florida Environmental Stewards completed a 750 linear foot reef within Eglin AFB’s Alaqua Bayou. Reef breakwaters reduce shoreline erosion, provide habitat for wildlife, and create critical structure for native oysters. The reef is one of three major living shoreline initiatives built on Eglin in 2017 and 2018.
CBA built the reef structures using limestone pieces and recycled oyster shell. The reefs reduce the wave energy hitting the shore, protecting the coastline. Once the reefs are complete, CBA will continue to monitor the sites and plant smooth cordgrass to hold the accumulating sediment in place and create a living shoreline. Living shorelines are natural alternatives to coastline hardening techniques, including rip rap and seawalls. CBA builds living shorelines across the Choctawhatchee Bay, including within public parks and homeowner sites.
“The site was tricky,” Rachel Gwin, CBA Restoration Coordinator, explained, “Because we had to move the materials by boat.” Com-munity volunteers made up a critical part of the team, especially Trey Nick of Nick’s Seafood Restaurant and Jimmy Garibaldi of Garibaldi Inshore Fishing, who donated both their boats and their time to move the limestone rock. The Northwest Florida Water Management District and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission acted as important program sponsors
Cox Communications has granted CBA $3000 to fund an elementary school Grasses in Classes curriculum through the 2018-2019 school year.
Grasses in Classes raises awareness and individual knowledge of local ecosystems through hands-on restoration projects and in-class instruction. With funding through Cox, Grasses in Classes students will tend salt marsh nurseries throughout the school year, and receive monthly education on local estuarine topics that meet Florida’s state science standards from CBA staff and AmeriCorps NWF Environmental Stewards. Periodically, the schoolchildren will split the grasses to increase the nursery stock. The program instills a love of local habitat and restores shoreline.
CBA is a recipient of the Cox Communications local giving award. The company highlights individuals and organizations that are helping the community; in particular, this $3000 gift funds an initiative that encourages environmental sustainability and conservation.
“Support from our business partners, like Cox Communications, is an essential part of achieving CBA’s mission and goals,” explains Alison McDowell, CBA Director, “With Cox’s help, we will be able to bring our Grasses in Classes curriculum to an Okaloosa County elementary school and inspire the next generation of water quality stewards.”
The Choctawatchee Basin Alliance has joined forces with a local artist and an outdoor advocate to remove harmful plastic fishing line, also known as monofilament, along our coast.
CBA worked with local artist Joan Vienot and Walton Outdoor publisher Lori Ceier to decorate three new PVC pipe receptacles in Thomas Pilcher and Cessna Parks, complete with drawings of a wildlife. The bins are equipped with an opening for monofilament disposal, which is eventually collected by CBA staff and volunteers for recycling.
Vienot and Ceier reminisce about the outflow of debris that riddles beaches, shorelines, and some of the most prominent fishing areas. Not only do the plastic strands entangle marine mammals and aquatic species, but they also are harmful to humans.
“My favorite part was the design, I think we both enjoyed that. The birds we choose are native to the area. There are a cormorant, Great Blue Heron, and Osprey,” explains Ceier.
The monofilament recycling program has grown since its founding during CBA’S Earth Day celebration in 2014. The program strives to reduce the amount of the flexible plastic – mainly used for fishing – and commonly found near the shoreline. Angling line poses a threat to humans, birds, and land mammals, resulting in entanglement that can inevitably lead to death. Unfortunately, fishing line is created from slow degrading plastic that takes over 600 years to break down.
“The decorated recycling bins are an attractive solution to throwing away fishing line,” says Alison McDowell, CBA Director, “They beautify the fishing piers and allow easy recycling of monofilament.”
CBA organized and facilitated 20 field trips for 18 elementary schools in Okaloosa and Walton Counties to bring 3rd and 5th graders to the shores of the Choctawhatchee Bay. A culmination of the year-long Grasses in Classes curriculum, the students planted smooth cordgrass they have raised since October of 2017 to create brand new living shorelines that both reduce erosion and create important wildlife habitat.
Grasses in Classes students tend salt marsh nurseries throughout the school year, and receive monthly education on local estuarine topics that meet Florida’s state science standards from CBA staff and AmeriCorps NWF Environmental Stewards. Periodically, the schoolchildren split the grasses to increase the nursery stock. The program instills a love of local habitat, restores shoreline, and inspires the next generation of watershed stewards.
This year, CBA also partnered with Eglin Air Force Base and Jackson Guard to bring three groups of students to White Point on the Eglin Reservation for the first time. Students planted grasses and learned more about the native species that call Eglin home.
“The students never forget their field trips,” says Brittany Tate, Education Coordinator for CBA, “They now know what it feels like to improve the local waterways with their own two hands.”
Funding for Grasses in Classes comes from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service Coastal Program as well as the Choctawhatchee Electric Cooperative, Inc. Local businesses and community groups can sponsor Grasses in Classes programs for the 2018-2019 academic year for $3,000 per school.
The air reverberated with clinking noises and the whoosh of oyster shells sliding off giant piles into waiting buckets. Volunteers, Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance (CBA) staff and their AmeriCorps team gathered the shells in mesh bags, slowly building another mound of new reef material. As they worked, a truck pulled in with even more shells, collected from nearby restaurants as part of CBA’s shell recycling program. It was reef building time.
Every year, our local United Way organizes Days of Caring to give back to organizations in our community. This year, CBA and the NWF AmeriCorps team came together to remove vegetation and weeds from Harvest House property.
Harvest House – a nonprofit based in Destin – provides food, clothing, and shelter to those who are less fortunate and at a point of need in their life. In 2016, they assisted over 5,000 people.
For the United Day of Caring event, Harvest House needed help clearing a retention basin on their property. Over the course of four hours, the team successfully cleared over a dozen bags of vegetation (see before and after photos below).
The goals of the Day of Caring events are five-fold:
– Days of Caring demonstrate that volunteer efforts are vital to the well-being of the community.
– Days of Caring provide volunteers with a firsthand look at services provided by local organizations that make an impact on people’s lives.
– Days of Caring showcase our communities’ volunteer efforts and promotes the spirit of caring throughout the year.
– Days of Caring provides many local organizations with much-needed volunteer assistance.
– Days of Caring is a great team building exercise for your family, service organization or employees.
CBA and the AmeriCorps team definitely found meaning in the experience.