The Mississippi River, one of the world’s major river systems in size, habitat diversity and biological productivity, originates in Minnesota. In just the upper half of the basin (from Cairo, IL to Minneapolis, MN) it's estimated that more than 15 million people rely on the river or its tributaries for a water supply. The Mississippi River Watershed covers nearly 40% of the lower 48 states. The river is home to 25% of all fish species in North America, 40% of the nation's migratory waterfowl, 60% of all North American birds, and more than 50 mammal species and 145 amphibians and reptiles.
These are facts the Boys Leadership Team fixated on when they finalized plans for a semester-long community service project. The theme was health, inspired by one BLT member who'd visited Ghana and witnessed widespread pollution and the public-health issues it causes there. The group of middle- and early high-schoolers picked a place close to home whose cleanliness (or lack thereof) has a wide-ranging impact: the Mississippi River.
"They drove every part of the project," says Middle School Program Coordinator Justin Margolies, who helped the BLT with details like finalizing a grant proposal to Minneapolis Community Education. They sent two representatives to defend their proposal before a youth council, and clinched the grant. They used the money to fund outreach, transportation and logistical costs for a one-day clean-up event that included an educational presentation.
By the time the event rolled around, the BLT were experts on the Mississippi River watershed, drainage patterns, and the impacts of fertilizers, chemicals and trash on the river and surrounding communities. They passed on their knowledge to the 45 volunteers who turned up for the May event. All in all, they collected 30 bags of trash.
The Boys Leadership Team can feel great for making a dent in the pollution of such an important river. They can also use their experience putting together an effective community service project, with little outside help, as they apply for jobs and colleges and continue to take leadership roles in the coming years. That's the sweet-spot combination we're always striving for here at Fred Wells Tennis & Education Center.