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Watershed Stewards Academy growing congregation outreach in Anne Arundel

As the Anne Arundel County Watershed Stewards Academy enters a new decade it will continue to forge connections with local congregations to encourage environment stewardship.

Thanks to a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation at the start of 2019, the Stewards Academy will be a part of the regional One Water Partnership through 2021. The Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake-led initiative helps religious congregations become environmental stewards.

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IPC received a $1 million grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation at the start of 2019 to fund the partnership for three years, according to the group’s website, and to allow its expansion into Anne Arundel.

This builds on work that started in the county in 2014, when IPC and the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay first partnered with the Stewards Academy for its RiverWise Congregations program. That initial push allowed the Stewards Academy to connect with 24 congregations, train 30 master watershed stewards, 70 congregational stewards, and facilitated stormwater projects to fight runoff.

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Participation in One Water will allow the Stewards Academy to grow those RiverWise connections, and forge new ones. Program coordinator Noelle Chao said maintenance of stormwater projects on congregation property has been a challenge, and grant funding isn’t available to cover that kind of work.

Chao hopes to figure out how to find sustainable maintenance for restoration projects that doesn’t require a grant funding source, and said the opportunity to participate in the One Water Partnership will allow her and the academy’s restoration coordinator to give more attention to the issue. Some have cracked the maintenance nut, she said, while others are struggling with the amount of volunteer work required and aren’t able to care for native plants with confidence.

“One of the really unique things about faith communities is that they already often have a lot of organizational infrastructure and they have people who are often passionate about service,” Chao said.

Chao said the RiverWise Congregations program has allowed them to connect with audiences they were having trouble reaching prior, creating an organization that more accurately reflects the county’s demographics. Of the 24 congregations they initially engaged, half were African-American, and two were mosques, she said.

“Especially in a polarizing time like we live in right now, it has been I think for all of our staff so uplifting to be able to build connections among people who may not at times think that they have very much in common but who can all come together for clean water,” she said. “Who can all agree that we need to do a better job protecting the Chesapeake Bay and who really feel like they have a calling to take action now.”

More information about the One Water Partnership can be found at www.interfaithchesapeake.org/one_water_partnership and information on the RiverWise Congregations program can be found at www.aawsa.org/riverwise-congregations.

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