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Volunteer Spotlight: EWB-USA Kansas City Professionals

Community Engineering Corps is proud to have volunteers from all across the country (and the world!) join our ranks to work in collaboration with communities throughout the USA. Follow our Volunteer Spotlight series to find out more about the diverse and dedicated people who make our program possible!

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group talking at edge of agricultural area, american flag waving

 

The EWB-USA Kansas City Professionals Chapter continues to be a wonderful asset to Community Engineering Corps. They recently completed two CECorps projects in the Salinas Valley of California, and they are currently looking for their next domestic project closer to home. We look forward to seeing what’s next for this active chapter!

CECorps staff had a chance to connect with one of their hard-working volunteers, Kevin Koines, and he provided the following insights into his chapter’s well-run machine.

The EWB-USA KC Professional Chapter

Tell us about what makes your chapter great.

There are approximately 35 members engaged in projects with a network of over 300 chapter participants in the KC area. We typically recruit by encouraging our chapter members to reach out to their coworkers and invite them to our meetings. At our general chapter meetings, we like to bring in great local speakers and build a connected and social chapter.

For fun, we hold an annual fundraising volleyball tournament called Sandtastic. This year was our 10th year organizing the tournament. We have also held an art gallery event displaying EWB-USA project pictures.

The chapter has a long history of projects in the Dominican Republic and a history of collaborating with organizations in Kansas City like Habitat for Humanity, Heart to Heart, and medical teams to serve in the Dominican Republic.

On the Chapter’s domestic work in Salinas Valley

How did you find out about the project?

Adam Byrnes, chapter member and project lead for the Johnson Road community project, reached out and was put in contact with Peter Waugh (former CECorps Director). Mac Prather, chapter leader, met with Peter at the 2016 International Summit and the chapter continued the conversation until a project was identified. We were excited to be on the leading edge of these domestic projects with CECorps.

We formed a project team by polling the EWB-USA Kansas City Chapter for volunteers that were interested in participating. Many of those interested had worked on technical projects abroad and wanted to help with something in the US with a quick turnaround. We had to find a volunteer with a California PE license, which ended up being Jen Thomas.

This project appealed to us as several members of our chapter work a lot with water projects and felt comfortable working on this type of project. Working on a domestic project knowing there are needs in our own country provides a sense of satisfaction as well. Our chapter already had a lot of experience working on technical community projects abroad, especially in the Dominican Republic. We also had a strong tie to groups working in the Kansas City region. In an effort to tie those two types of projects together we wanted to approach a technical project within the US. We are interested in developing and growing at the chapter level, the city level, the domestic level, and the international level. They are all tied together but each type of work has different challenges and rewards.

What were the biggest challenges you encountered during the course of this project?

The Salinas Valley has to comply with State of California and Monterey county drinking water standards, which are more stringent than state and local standards we have in the Midwest.  Working with the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water (local NGO) was helpful in that they did much of the actual coordination with the community and analytical contracts, but working with EJCW required another layer of effort to ensure we helped them meet their grant requirements.

What is your team’s top highlight from this project? 

Our team met with several community members and was able to hear (with translation help from EJCW) about the issues they have been facing with a contaminated water supply. They were happy to see that active steps were being taken to find a long-term solution. To show their gratitude, one of the community members, Enrique, asked our team to stay for lunch. Enrique’s wife had been preparing authentic tamales all morning for our team and insisted that we try them. We sat outside and enjoyed the tamales with Enrique while he showed us his avocado trees.

Any other points of interests, discoveries, or “a-ha” moments along the way?

Our team was aware of the nitrate contamination in the community, but we were surprised when the water quality reports showed concentrations of hexavalent chromium (chromium VI) that exceeded the state MCL. While on site, our team was fortunate to be able to tour the Soquel Creek Pump Station, which includes an ion exchange treatment system to remove Chromium VI. The manufacturer happened to be on site at the same time and our team was able to experience a demonstration of their treatment system and discuss how a system could be utilized by our project community.

CECorps Experience

Our chapter chose to devote time to volunteering because it is fulfilling to use our education and work experience to help those that are in need. We enjoyed exploring another part of the U.S. and experiencing a totally different climate than what we have in the Midwest… beaches, redwood forests, and fresh local produce in April.