Sometimes the smallest thing can tell you a lot about the health of a community. That’s a message Asheville GreenWorks is hoping to spread to underserved Asheville communities — and they’re starting with something as small as a bug.
Through the organization’s Water Quality Internship Program, six interns are learning how to test water quality in local streams by counting macroinvertbrates — aquatic bugs that, upon close inspection, look like creatures from a sci-fi thriller. But that’s only the beginning, as the interns will also work as educators and advocates, raising awareness of environmental concerns in the public housing developments near the streams.
“The more education we can get to these communities that surround the streams, the better the outcome,” says Dewana Little, water quality and community engagement coordinator. “Anything that’s going on in these communities — litter on the ground, oil from the cars, overflowing trash bins — when it storms, it all flows directly to the water.”
The interns, who range in age from 13-25, are all residents of public housing. They are working with GreenWorks from April to November, testing four stream sites for chemical and biological indicators, including the macroinvertbrates.
Little says GreenWorks chose these four sites — located below the Pisgah View, Dearview, Hillcrest and Livingston and Erskine-Walton apartments — because they are particularly susceptible to pollution, in part because of a lack of recycling in some of the developments.
Though the city provides curbside recycling to single-family homes of up to four units, the program has not expanded to larger apartment complexes, including public housing developments. The Asheville Housing Authority and GreenWorks have partnered to provide recycling services through private companies at six of the nine Asheville public housing developments, though the service is not currently available at Pisgah View, Dearview or Klondyke, which account for 584 family units.
“When there’s no way to recycle, or when there isn’t education in the community about recycling, there’s no way to reduce the amount of trash going into the landfill bins,” Little says. “That leads to overflow, and the overflow is swept down to the streams.”
This is why the stream test is only the first phase of the internship program, Little says. The interns will be able to share their findings with friends and neighbors at community cookouts, sponsored by GreenWorks. They will also design activities to teach younger children about the importance of recycling and lead group trash pickups.
“We need people to start thinking twice when they throw something on the ground or when their trash is flowing over,” Little says. “We want to get them thinking, ‘I just cleaned that stream!’ People aren’t going to throw that trash down when they were just out there picking it up.”
The interns say the communities are responding to the initiative, especially younger kids. In addition to the activities they designed for the Community Days, the interns have also led kids from the Children First/CIS center in Deaverview on a macroinvertbrate collecting excursion.
“Being in the creeks, seeing if they are healthy — we are like real scientists,” says 19-year-old intern Tonnica Reid.
“And it’s a way for us to make our communities a better place to live,” adds intern Ebony Goodine, 13.
Little says she hopes the interns will be able to raise recycling awareness in the communities, and she adds that GreenWorks is working to find a way to expand recycling to all the developments. Samantha Bowers, project manager for the Asheville Housing Authority and chair of the board of directors for GreenWorks, adds that the nonprofit has submitted a proposal to the city to increase recycling efforts throughout public housing, which includes funding a resident-operated program. Little says that this would be the ideal approach, as it is also a way to bring jobs into the community.
Overall, Little says she believes environmental awareness in the communities is already increasing thanks to the interns’ efforts. “We believe this can really have a lasting effect,” she says. “The smallest things can make a great difference.”
GreenWorks’ community cookouts are open to the public and will be held at Pisgah View Apartments on Saturday, Aug. 30, and Deaverview Apartments on Saturday, Sept. 13. The community event for Hillcrest and Klondyke apartments will be held at the Montford Center on Saturday, Sept. 27. The first community day, for the Southside housing developments, was held at the Grant Center on Aug. 18.
The remaining four interns in the Water Quality Internship Program are Katrina Greer, 13; Jesus Rubalcava, 13; Daniel Suber, 25; and Ayana White, 13. For more information on the program, visit ashevillegreenworks.org or call 254-1776.