Environmental Leaders of Color Community Programs

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Don’t Strain Your Drain Campaign

On the eve of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Diana Williams and Marvin Church convened community activists and business leaders to promote climate education and opportunities for underserved communities. Before the pandemic forced the group to disband, they had a name, the Environmental Leaders of Color (ELOC) and were able to recognize that more climate and clean energy activism and resources were needed. Having yet to be fully established, many of the original group moved on to other clean energy and environmental opportunities.  

But In July 2021, ELOC launched its first program with members Diana and Marvin called the Student Summer Energy & Environmental Program for Teens.  The six-week program at The Mount Vernon Youth Bureau and the Mount Vernon Youth Community Outreach Program (YCOP) engaged students in classroom-based learning about basic clean energy and climate change topics.  Seventeen students graduated that first summer.  By the Spring of 2024, more than three hundred teens from Westchester communities have participated in ELOC programs.

After the summer program, students must present a topic that interests them. In 2023, Mount Vernon YCOP students, at the suggestion of their instructor, chose to present on cooking oil recycling. The students emphasized that cooking oil clogs building pipes and storm drains when poured down the drain. When storm drains clog, they no longer function effectively to remove rainwater, so water backs up in basements and yards. Waterlogged basements can compromise budling’s structural integrity and allow toxic mold and mildew growth.

The students stressed the high cost that building owners and municipalities face when removing oil from storm drains and pipes. That cost is passed on to the building owners and occupants as higher municipal taxes and rents. Toxic mold and mildew growth are the most troubling impacts of oil-clogged storm drains. Because when individuals who have compromised immunity, asthma, and other raspatory conditions are exposed to toxic mold and mildew, it can trigger medical emergencies.

Students Jahneil Palmer, Felicity Jefferson, and Kalyn Chisolm were invited to bring their recycling cooking project as an entrant in the Bedford 2030 Greenlight Award, which is a competition for Westchester’s high school students to present an environmental problem and action in their community.  The Don’t Strain Your Drain Campaign, as it is now known, is focused on collecting cooking oil in Mount Vernon.  Students advise residents to save their used cooking oil in clean metal, glass, and cartons, then bring it to the Mount Vernon Fire Stations at 470 Lincoln Avenue and 50 West Third Street, where oil collection drums are located. Residents can bring their oil to the drop-off sites at any time. 

The Don’t Drain Your Drain Campaign highlights some opportunities for stormwater mitigation in our communities.  While large commercial restaurants generally have contracts with oil collection companies, many smaller restaurants and take-out establishments cannot afford these contracts.  Additionally, no facilities accept cooking oil produced by Westchester’s more than 394,000 households.  The Westchester County Recycling Household Material Recovery Facility accepts hazardous material, but cooking oil is not accepted there because it is consumable and not hazardous.  It is assumed that gallons of cooking oil are thrown down drains, clogging pipes, or garbage.  Many people don’t know that cooking oil is a valuable commercial commodity used as animal food, cosmetic products, and fuel when recycled and purified. Climate change will bring more torrential rains, and more flooding is expected if storm drains are clogged.  The situation is dire for economically vulnerable communities that do not have the resources to address the aftermath of floods.

Besides its summer program, ELOC is hosting its yearlong Technology and the Environment Advanced Computer Science program for high school students at the Westchester Community College Mount Vernon Extension.  Technology is essential to solving some of the problems related to climate change. Each semester, students will tackle subjects often taught at an advanced level, such as cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, robotics, coding, and others. This semester, students learned data mining and management from a curriculum created by TRC Companies. The program strives to provide students in under-resourced communities with the same computer exposure as their wealthier counterparts so that they can compete for selective college programs and jobs.  

Diana Williams and Marvin Church are dedicated to educating and advocating for communities, particularly socially and economically vulnerable ones, to address climate change, its impact, mitigation, and solutions. They have been unpaid employees at ELOC who spend tireless hours planning and preparing programs for the community and generously donating to community organizations.  During COVID, Marvin and Diana paid rent for a food pantry in Mount Vernon to feed residents.  They continue to create programs to address climate change.  Diana Williams, the Acting Executive Director of ELOC, says, “We believe people can achieve amazing things when given the opportunity and knowledge. Managing climate change will take the participation of all communities.  We must learn how to do things differently, what habits we need to change, what opportunities exist to clean up our planet, protect our health, and save our children’s future.”

DAMON K JONES
DAMON K JONEShttps://damonkjones.com
A multifaceted personality, Damon is an activist, author, and the force behind Black Westchester Magazine, a notable Black-owned newspaper based in Westchester County, New York. With a wide array of expertise, he wears many hats, including that of a Spiritual Life Coach, Couples and Family Therapy Coach, and Holistic Health Practitioner. He is well-versed in Mental Health First Aid, Dietary and Nutritional Counseling, and has significant insights as a Vegan and Vegetarian Nutrition Life Coach. Not just limited to the world of holistic health and activism, Damon brings with him a rich 32-year experience as a Law Enforcement Practitioner and stands as the New York Representative of Blacks in Law Enforcement of America.

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