December 16, 2011
Rutgers Cooperative Extension (RCE) of Essex County won Honorable Mention in the Healthy and Sustainable Communities Category in the 2011 Governor's Environmental Excellence Awards ceremony for its Sustainable Landscape and Stormwater Management green job skills training program at the East Orange Veterans Affairs (VA) Hospital. Accepting the award on behalf of Rutgers were Jan Zientek, senior program coordinator for RCE of Essex County and Amy Rowe, environmental and resource management agent for Essex and Passaic counties.
This is the fifth year in a row, and sixth overall, that RCE has been recognized by the Governor's Environmental Excellence Awards, which honors individuals, organizations, institutions, communities and businesses that have made significant contributions in protecting New Jersey's environment. The ceremony was held at the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton, NJ, on Dec. 8.
Through a partnership among RCE, the Planetree Corporation, and the Veteran Affairs New Jersey Health Care system, unemployed New Jersey veterans have been trained through a green job skills program focused on sustainable landscaping and stormwater management. The program's in-class sessions were reinforced with hands-on installations of rain gardens, rain barrel construction and installation, organic gardening techniques and planting of drought-resistant native plants around the East Orange Veteran Affairs hospital facility. The veterans learned green job skills while serving as a workforce for preventing stormwater damage and beautifying the hospital grounds.
According to a 2011 report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. veterans are an underserved, vulnerable population with higher unemployment rates than the general population. The Sustainable Landscape and Stormwater Management program prepares veterans for workforce re-entry by providing them with green job skills and at the same time, these veterans serve as a workforce for preventing stormwater damage and beautifying the hospital grounds.
Overall, the Sustainable Landscape and Stormwater Management class has installed stormwater management controls that will reduce the stormwater generated onsite by 37,000 gallons per year. The demand for drinking water at the facility will be reduced by 9,000 gallons per year. The community gardens at the hospital campus have produced 2,000 pounds of local, sustainably grown vegetables in 2011. The students in the class have also increased their awareness of the importance of stormwater management, sustainable landscaping and environmental issues. This may lead to continued environmental stewardship in the students' neighborhoods and communities, as well as the sharing of their newly-acquired knowledge with others.
The Healthy and Sustainable Communities Category honors the nominee that demonstrates a commitment to and experience in any activity that reduces or eliminates pollution/waste at the source or treats the materials in an environmentally safe manner prior to recycling or disposal, innovative practices or technologies that have resulted in the private or public sector cleanup and redevelopment of contaminated/brownfields sites, or the creation of community-based initiatives that foster involvement, action and effective solutions to the adverse effects of industrial pollution in communities of color and low-income communities.
The annual awards event is sponsored by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the New Jersey Corporation for Advanced Technology and the State League of Municipalities.
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