Left to right: Al Todd (Alliance Executive Director), Lori Lilly (Howard EcoWorks Director), Ted Wolf (READY Program Assistant), and Lou Etgen (Maryland State Director) accept award

The Alliance’s Howard County READY (Restoring the Environment and Developing Youth) Program, founded in partnership with People Acting Together in Howard (PATH) and Howard County, and now managed in partnership with Howard EcoWorks, won the Melanie Teems Award presented by the Chesapeake Bay Trust. The Award, named after the longest-serving staff member of the Trust, recognizes a program that engages residents in efforts to improve the Chesapeake region’s natural resources through demonstration-based projects or programs. The receiving program serves as a model for other organizations and inspires them by promoting environmental engagement throughout the community. Lori Lilly, Director of Howard EcoWorks, prepared the nomination for the Award.

The Howard County READY program has been extremely successful with more than 160 hires made and over 100 rain gardens constructed. READY has also managed nearly 50 acres of County forest conservation easement property, more than 40 acres of County stream restoration sites, repaired 16 and maintained 14 County-installed bioretention facilities, and has developed and implemented a debris management effort in Ellicott City streams to mitigate flood damage. The program has evolved from providing summer-only opportunities for high school and college students, to employing a year round crew who engage in more skills development as they provide benefits to the local community.

READY young adults assist elementary school children with tree planting and invasive species management projects by providing both labor and guidance. Crew members have developed lesson plans for elementary school children about rain gardens, stormwater, and watersheds, and are using rain gardens installed at the schools themselves as teaching tools. READY engages the community through rain garden demonstrations at the County’s annual GreenFest, signage at all BMPs, tabling at community events, engaging youth and Girls Scouts at churches and stenciling storm drains in neighborhoods and at churches where READY gardens have been installed. READY is driving down the costs of BMP implementation and maintenance, making services more accessible to potential customers, and is increasing the sustainability of operations by growing native plant material at a nursery READY established at the County Corrections Department.

The successful implementation of the Howard County READY program has inspired and motivated both individuals and organizations across the Chesapeake Bay. Individuals that have been employed by the READY program have been changed by their experience. Many individuals report being much more aware and sensitive to environmental issues after participating in the program and several have changed college career tracks to an environmental focus. These individuals have undergone a fundamental change in their attitudes and beliefs about the environment and have developed a stewardship ethic for Howard County’s local natural resources that did not exist before.

The program itself is a resource not just to the County but to local communities and neighborhoods. These communities and neighborhoods would otherwise not be able to receive technical assistance or project implementation support for their myriad of smaller drainage and stormwater concerns that do not warrant attention or resources from the County government.  Other Chesapeake Bay counties and municipalities are looking to emulate the READY model established in Howard County. READY programs have been initiated in Anne Arundel County, central PA, and Richmond, VA. Interest has been expressed in other areas around the Bay and nation.

In Howard County, local ownership is continuing to grow through the development of a new non-profit, Howard EcoWorks that will administer the READY program in the future. The READY model marries environmental improvements with multiple socioeconomic benefits, and has the potential to impact and benefit communities of all kinds, generating and sustaining long term local support.