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Natural Awakenings Philadelphia

Overbrook Environmental Education Center

Jan 06, 2017 03:00PM ● By Martin Miron

The Overbrook Center has educated thousands of students about the Clean Water Act, Toxic Substances Control Act, Urban Stormwater Management and other regulations that reduce exposures to toxic substances at home and school. Jerome Shabazz holds a master’s degree in environmental protection and safety management from St. Joseph’s University and has more than 20 years of training and development experience.

“All across the nation, small environmental justice organizations are challenged with scaling up: taking ingenuity and initiative to address larger concerns in order to address widespread environmental issues in our communities. And that’s what our organization in Philadelphia, Juveniles Active in Science & Technology (JASTECH) Development Services, Inc., has been all about: developing innovative and collaborative solutions for improving the built and natural environments of our city,” says Shabazz.

In 2002, JASTECH applied for and received an U.S. Environmental Agency Clean Water Act grant to transform a former brownfield site into the Overbrook Environmental Education Center (OEEC). “We built the OEEC to empower students to learn both in the academic context and as participants in community reform,” according to Shabazz. “Since its inception, the OEEC used sustainable strategies that do more with less by developing dynamic solutions to overcome obstacles typically associated with organizations who have limited resources and small staffs.”

The OEEC puts this philosophy in action with the 3A approach: Awareness + Assessment + Application. Awareness is the education of and relationship to the issues. Assessment is taking inventory of community partners, inputs and resources. Applications are sustainable solution-based remedies.

An example where the OEEC put these scalable ideas into action is through educating the public on Philadelphia’s combined sewer overflow problems. The OEEC worked collaboratively to build a 15-week green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) training program for local youth. The GSI program is a robust partnership based on Philadelphia Water’s Green City and Clean Waters plan and includes the U.S. Forest Service, Penn State Center Engaging Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Education, AKRF Engineering and others.

Chevelle Harrison, Philadelphia Water director of student engagement says, “GSI teaches students that their actions have a direct impact on the environment.” Through the program, students from Philadelphia high schools conceptualize solutions that reduce strain on the city’s combined sewer system. The students are charged with learning “the power of small”, deconstructing the complicated concepts of pollution from sewer overflows into a series of achievable best management practices that can be realized on a neighborhood level.

“All too often, we hear about how bigger is better,” says Shabazz. “However, we are inspired by the people in our community who demonstrate that when you think creatively, small ideas can conquer big problems. Whether it’s our students, a citizen scientist, activists, concerned parents, or any of the other armies-of-one who inspire big changes with scalable ideas, one remedy at a time, we all benefit from their contributions.”

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