For many Sept. 11 was a day to remember the horrible attack on the United States and its freedoms through thanking firefighters, first responders, law enforcement and military members. For students at Elkin Middle School it was a day to show appreciation through acts of community service.
Part of the day for seventh-graders included going off campus and out in the area to help others – one of those groups spent Friday morning assisting the local Watershed NOW group in marking 11 storm drains on Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital’s property so people will know that anything going into those drains directly feeds into waterways without being filtered or treated.
The water drain marking efforts of Watershed NOW includes using yellow spray paint to put graphics next to the storm drains to get people’s attention.
With four options for community service projects to participate in Friday, teacher Taylor Erickson said the seventh-graders ranked their interest in the projects on a Google form and then they were divided up for the activities. Options included the Watershed NOW project; cleaning the trails with the Elkin Valley Trails Association; volunteering for the day as a teacher’s assistant at Elkin Elementary School; and the third option split students between cleaning fire trucks at Arlington Fire Department and working at The ARK and Tri-C Christian Crisis Ministries.
Eight-graders at the middle school also had Sept. 11 projects in which they participated around the school, including doing a car wash to benefit the school’s backpack program which provides food for low-income students on the weekends, mulching in an outdoor classroom being constructed and making quilts to be sold as a fundraiser.
For the 19 students who went to the hospital, they had an opportunity to hear from hospital CEO Paul Hammes before learning more about Watershed NOW’s efforts from Dr. Woody Faulk.
Faulk explained the grease from cars, toxic chemicals, dirt and sediment is washed into the storm drains when it rains and then those chemicals and dirt travel directly into Big Elkin Creek and other waterways leading to the Yadkin River, which is a major source of drinking water for many communities.
“What are those chemicals doing to that water? Making it undrinkable and so towns have to spend a lot of money to treat the water so it is drinkable,” Faulk said.
He asked the students what color Big Elkin Creek turns after heavy rains. They said orange. “Orange is the sediment – fertilizer and dirt – off of farms up the creek,” he said.
“The hospital has been good stewards of our watershed,” Faulk told the students. “These drains go to a pond and retention ponds, and the ground then filters those chemicals before it runs to creeks. That’s why they are good stewards.
“Everyone in the Elkin and Jonesville area comes to this facility at some point during the year whether as a patient, to see patients, for work, so they will see these little signs as a reminder about what it means,” he said. “That’s the concept, and I think we’re going to have fun doing it.”
The students, assisted by Faulk, Julian Charles and the Rev. Stuart Taylor, were outfitted with protective glasses, disposable gloves and face masks and split into groups of three or four. Each group was able to use brooms to clean the dirt from the spot that would be painted with brooms, and then after the stencil was put in place, the students got to take turns spray painting the gentle reminders the drains lead to waterways.
Erickson, who is this year’s Elkin City Schools’ Teacher of the Year, explained last year the Watershed NOW group led a creek clean up for the Sept. 11 day projects. Charles and Erickson are friends, and the relationship between the school and the environmental awareness group grew from there.
“I’ve been interested in the question as a Presbyterian pastor of how we can move from the sacredness of our baptismal water to the sacredness of all water,” said Taylor, explaining how the Watershed NOW group was created. “I go to western North Carolina hiking and vacationing near the waterfalls there, and I fell in love with water.
“I believe in the sacredness of all water, and I don’t think we can take clean water for granted,” he said. “It is very dangerous to take clean water for granted, so we launched the community movement and preserving our water.”
While two of the drains now marked can be found in the main parking lot at the front entrance of the hospitals, an activity bus led by a hospital security guard took the students around to the other drains which now can be spotted with bright yellow marking paint reminding visitors to the facility about the importance of keeping the parking lots and roadways clean so that waterways stay clean.
Wendy Byerly Wood can be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.