Small Nonprofit, Big Impact

By Emily Israel on March 24, 2017.

Reflecting on my service term thus far, the “elevator speech” that I give to explain my position (and host site) has been less satisfying than I once anticipated. The issue isn't that it doesn’t accurately describe these roles, or that I loathe the conversation…The issue is that without a few more minutes, most folks can’t truly understand or appreciate AmeriCorps Project Conserve or my host site, Mills River Partnership. With that said, I’d like to dedicate this blog post to The Mills River Partnership, and the environmental stewardship it’s diligently working to maintain.

“I am an AmeriCorps Project Conserve member serving as the Outreach and Education Coordinator for Mills River Partnership, a nonprofit organization working to monitor, protect, and improve water quality in the Mills River.”

THAT is my elevator speech.

Sure, it’s informative… if you’re also part of an environmental organization (but even then, it doesn’t relay the message of what we do exactly and how we do it)! So, allow me to explain…

Mills River Partnership (MRP) is a small environmental nonprofit organization. Originally formed in 1998, with sporadic periods of dormancy totaling almost 10 years, MRP was reintroduced in 2007 after a major fish kill occurred due to an excessive amount of pesticide from a farm upstream. Fast forward an additional 10 years, and the Partnership is an established environmental organization for the community of Mills River, NC. As a drinking source for more than 65,000 residents in Henderson and Buncombe counties, MRP works closely with farmers, landowners, and community residents through voluntary participation to address existing (and potential) water quality issues. For instance, to reduce sediment runoff (which is not only detrimental to the farmer/landowner, but also the #1 pollutant in North Carolina waterways), the Partnership (in conjunction with Henderson County Soil and Water Conservation District) assesses and designs projects to address such issues. Examples of these Best Management Practices (BMPs) include: grassed waterways, field borders, stream bank stabilization (using live stakes), livestock exclusion and trails, etc. Similar practices are also implemented to reduce pesticide runoff, although in addition to grassed waterways and field borders, chemical handling facilities are also installed to limit pesticides and chemicals that reach waterways.

A great start to addressing both issues is to ensure a riparian buffer with dense vegetation is in place around waterways (which helps capture and filter both sediment and chemicals). To oversee such projects, MRP has one full-time employee, Maria Wise, the Watershed Coordinator. Not only does Maria connect with farmers, landowners, governmental agencies, other environmental organizations, etc… But Maria also leads the charge in applying for funding and grants for the Partnership. Therefore, in order to further engage and educate the local community, an AmeriCorps Project Conserve member has been serving the Partnership for two years as the Outreach and Education Coordinator. As the position I serve, I understand this role is more than just a time and money benefit for MRP or a resume builder for myself; this position is necessary for the longevity of the organization and the Mills River community. As Maria handles most of the logistics pertaining to the Partnership, I’m able to focus on engaging and educating the community through tasks, such as: volunteer workdays (i.e. Workshops, live staking, river cleanups), ‘Kids in the Creek’ events at local schools, and active participation in events with partnering organizations.

[And although I could go on, this post already exceeds the word count allotted.]

Needless to say, Mills River Partnership is a small nonprofit with a big impact;
And in the mission of AmeriCorps, getting things done for America!