For a long time, I stood on the sidelines. A lot of people do. When you look around, people may assume, “Oh people don’t care,” but it’s not that. Because, when you talk to people, you really realize how much they really do care, which is inspiring. I think people are just frustrated. They don’t know what to do. there are just so many things. You feel powerless. I felt powerless.
I started working in the community two years ago, really just out of frustration at first. I saw how people would improperly put their trash out, without cans or lids. So I put together a flier that said “rat food” with a picture of overflowing trash, and the rats coming to it for food. That’s how I first got involved. I never realized the impact I could have before that. Growing up, I thought community stuff was boring, and I didn’t see the significance. I didn’t realize until I got involved how much difference one can really make, and the access to resources like Blue Water and Healthy Harbor was out there to really make change.
Elise came to our meetings and told us about Blue Water Baltimore. She has always been there helping us in any way she can, even on clean ups when it’s been single digit temperatures. Elise is the one who informed and encouraged us to apply for a grant that we received for the Love Your Block project. We needed a fiscal sponsor, and she said that they could sponsor us. That was the first time I had ever collaborated with an environmental organization.
With the grant funding we received, we were able to purchase recycling bins to distribute to community residents who were interested in recycling. Lots of community residents signed up and were excited to get the recycling bins. We have a lot more people recycling in the neighborhood now. People will recycle. We just needed the resources, and the ability to educate them on recycling; and now they are recycling. When working in the community, you just can’t come top-down and say “this is how it should be in this community”, you need to involve the residents and businesses in the community in the decision making process; it needs to be them who has the power and buy-in. Otherwise, they will stay on the sidelines, like I was. Now I still get frustrated almost every day, but I don’t feel powerless anymore.
Celena Owens is a leader in the Oliver community. Click here to read the plan developed by Oliver residents in collaboration with Blue Water Baltimore’s Deep Blue program to secure a stronger, more sustainable future for their neighborhood.
Photo Credit: Michel Anderson.
Deep Blue is an innovative partnership between Blue Water Baltimore, the Neighborhood Design Center, Baltimore City Department of Public Works, the Department of Planning, and five neighborhoods throughout Baltimore City.