Though Mobile Baykeeper had high hopes for their SWAMP program, they’ve already achieved far greater success than they could have imagined.
SWAMP – Strategic Watershed Awareness Monitoring Program – is a public awareness campaign and citizen-based environmental monitoring program in the Three Mile Creek Watershed in Mobile, an area chosen because it recently went through a comprehensive Watershed Management Plan. To see that plan implemented, Baykeeper knew a community of support would be necessary. Thanks to a grant from The Community Foundation of South Alabama, that support became a reality.
“Watershed management plans are really exciting projects where they go into these smaller watersheds, like Three Mile Creek Watershed, and they identify all the issues in that area using stakeholders and community groups,” said Laura Jackson. “It’s a long process getting all this input from the community, but you really have to have one engaged community to do that. They have to understand what a watershed is and all the aftermath that comes from it.”
SWAMP was created out of that need for more education programming. With a commitment for participation from LeFlore High School and support from the Mobile Area Education Foundation and AM/NS Calvert, the organization was able to broaden the scope of their impact and incorporate many STEM aspects into their plans.
“Besides their environmental focus, AM/NS Calvert was really interested in the idea of STEM for their future employees,” said Jamie Bullock. “The quote that they kept using is ‘grow your own,’ so we said let’s work with what we have here, let’s keep them in this area, let’s get them trained, let’s get something on their resume that looks really good, let’s get them working with a local nonprofit that’s doing the same thing.”
With those goals in mind, Baykeeper began the program at LeFlore High School, working to educate and raise awareness among students, their parents and the community to engage them in a better understanding of how individual actions impact waterways, how the waterways sustain the region, how citizens can protect them and how to address problems found there. When staff began to implement the program at the school they were pleasantly surprised at the response.
“The level of engagement there is through the roof,” said Laura Jackson. “A lot of these students really weren’t even familiar with Three Mile Creek and what it was and where it was. Sometimes you can’t even see the creeks because they’re kind of hidden and hard to access. So the novelty of being out there and understanding all of that, being connected to all of that, is what made that area and the engagement so much higher.”
The program begins with classroom presentations done by Baykeeper staff. Interested students are then signed up and trained as water quality monitors through Alabama Water Watch before beginning to do monthly monitoring. “They’re having fun with it,” said Bullock. “We really have been able to be consistent with them. Every month we go out and you can see this knowledge clicking.”
As the staff looks to the future of the program and new goals, a solutions-driven path is where they want to focus.
“What we’re doing, too, is helping them identify where the problems are and then trying to come up with solutions,” said Bullock. “We’re doing cleanups now a lot of times, too, because when we’re out in the areas and there’s litter everywhere, the kids get so upset. We found a quote the other day that said ‘Teach the children so you don’t have to teach the adults,’ and you know, that’s what we’re trying to do. If these kids can stop one person from throwing down that Styrofoam cup, it’s going to make a difference.”
About The Community Foundation of South Alabama
The Community Foundation of South Alabama is a nonprofit charitable organization that plays a key role in meeting the needs of an eight-county region through leadership and grants. The Foundation serves as a vessel for donors, volunteers, and the community to share ideas, identify issues, and build financial resources necessary to make improvements and positively impact the community. The Foundation administers a collection of charitable funds established by members of the community. Since its founding in 1976, the Foundation has awarded more than $75 million in grants to nonprofit organizations to support programs that make life better in the community. The Community Foundation builds lasting endowments to ensure grants are available to support the community forever.