In May 2021 the Alliance and our partners at ecoLatinos set forth on a new project: The Greening of St. Catherine Laboure. I should start by saying St. Catherine was very green already. Sitting on almost 10 acres of beautiful property in Montgomery County, MD, the Catholic church has immaculate grounds. However, more than half of the property is covered in impervious surfaces – these are surfaces where water cannot penetrate. For St. Catherine, this means pavement, parking lots, and buildings. Even with St. Catherine’s rolling green spaces there was simply too much rainwater coming off of these hard surfaces causing constant water issues.

The Alliance and ecoLatinos saw this site as an opportunity, to not only address these stormwater concerns but to do so with the parishioners at our side. St. Catherine houses the largest parish in Montgomery County and a significant portion of this parish is Latino and/or Spanish speaking. Historically, Latino communities have been left out of environmental engagement even though surveys consistently find those who identify as Hispanic or Latino to have a stronger interest and concern for environmental issues than non-Hispanics (Pew 2021). Our team planned to embed Spanish-speaking engagement, education, and outreach into all aspects of the stormwater project.


Starting in September 2021 and running through April 2022, the Alliance and ecoLatinos worked with Shorb Landscaping and parish leaders to install rain gardens, trees, native landscaping, and rain barrels on the St. Catherine site. The projects, often called green stormwater infrastructure for their unique designs and environmental benefits, were scattered between the church’s sanctuary and rectory. Each project installation was paired with bi-lingual outreach and education to St Catherine’s full parish. Partner representatives conducted parish announcements with tailored bulletins and invitations in English and Spanish, as well as committee presentations to activate dedicated parishioners.

Five hands-on education events allowed parishioners to engage at their own comfort level, language, and speed. Attendees were able to volunteer their time installing practices or learning more about local environmental issues, and how everyone can do their part. They planted and cared for trees, differentiated rain gardens from traditional landscaping, and better understood the positive water impacts that result from this work. Attendees learned about the benefits of native plants and how to distinguish and remove common invasive plants from a garden. Even the Rain Barrel 101 discussion garnered great interest and excitement for water-saving methods at individuals’ homes!

The project was tailored to this form of engagement through the creation of a Green Team or Equipo Verde, made up of parishioners dedicated to the stewardship of their church and environment. Partners and green team members topped off the program with an Earth Month celebration on April 2nd, 2022 where attendees participated in family-friendly and bi-lingual activities on site. The Alliance unveiled new educational signage and focused the conversation on how to implement similar projects on their residences through the Montgomery County RainScapes program. In total, this project helped educate hundreds of Spanish and English-speaking parishioners, engage 60+ volunteers, and install over 2,000 square feet of green stormwater infrastructure in Wheaton, Maryland.

As we set our sights on the future, our team hopes to synthesize the St. Catherine partnership and engagement framework into a replicable program format. Our lessons learned will be applied and the greatest takeaways uplifted as we work to better engage all communities of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

Award funding from the Montgomery County Water Quality Protection Fund and grant allocated through the Chesapeake Bay Trust.