MARSHALL - It's a cause everyone can get behind. But helping to make Marshall a cleaner, more efficient community is a job that also requires a lot of leadership and organization. That's where Melinda Kawalek wants to help out.
Kawalek is a new face in town and a member of the Minnesota GreenCorps service program. During the next 11 months, she will be working with community members to help both Marshall and the local environment.
"My time here is a service to the community," Kawalek said.
The Marshall GreenStep Committee, a volunteer group dedicated to helping improve efficiency and the environment in Marshall, applied in June for a chance to be matched with a GreenCorps worker. The city of Marshall is one of the 28 host sites around the state that were selected for a GreenCorps worker this year.
"We're really excited to have Melinda," said Marshall GreenStep coordinator Tom Hoff.
GreenCorps is part of the AmeriCorps program and is also administered by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Kawalek said.
"(The MPCA) provides the training, and it has a lot of oversight," she said.
Kawalek said there's a competitive selection process for both GreenCorps members and the host organizations they work with.
"You want a host site where they have a lot of opportunities," to help meet local environmental goals, Kawalek said. Selected GreenCorps members were also paired up with host sites that would best match with their skills, background and interests. "They decided I would be a good fit for the Marshall host site."
Some host sites are cities, but GreenCorps members can also be hosted by non-profit groups or universities, Kawalek said.
Kawalek is originally from Inver Grove Heights and became interested in the GreenCorps program as a student at the University of Minnesota - Morris. She said she developed an interest in conservation while growing up, through activities like trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and tending a family vegetable garden with her father.
"He's been really good at explaining the importance of sustainability," Kawalek said.
Hoff and Marshall Mayor Bob Byrnes said it's exciting to have Kawalek in Marshall. While the volunteers of the local GreenStep committee have accomplished a lot, he said, they're faced with some big tasks.
"It takes a lot of effort and leadership," to coordinate community projects, Byrnes said. It will be a great help to have someone who can work with conservation and "green living" issues on a daily basis, he and Hoff said.
While Kawalek will have some supervision from Marshall Community Services Director Harry Weilage, she will be working in partnership with local residents and organizations, as well as the city, Southwest Minnesota State University and the GreenStep Committee.
"We will be partnering with pretty much everyone who has a stake in this," Kawalek said. Within the next couple of weeks, she plans to prioritize goals for her work and meet with potential partner groups.
Kawalek said she's already started work learning about the Marshall community, looking at possible opportunities to serve and developing a workplan. So far, her research has included local organizations, demographic information and even the city's 1996 comprehensive plan.
Byrnes said one possible area where Kawalek and the city can work together would be on taking an inventory of trees in Marshall. Such an inventory could help maintain the city's green spaces, and help prepare for potential incidents like an emerald ash borer infestation.
Hoff said the local GreenStep group also has several goals it's working toward, including encouraging recycling and improved water conservation in Marshall. Now that weekly single-sort recycling is available in Lyon County, Hoff said, Marshall residents have been recycling more. GreenStep members would also like to work with local businesses to reduce even more waste. Similarly, Hoff said the group would like to work with local hotels and apartment complexes to install water-saving devices.
The GreenStep Committee is also continuing its business recognition program, Hoff said. Local businesses that take actions to reduce waste or improve efficiency can be recognized as a GreenStep business.
"I think more and more people are starting to associate waste with inefficiency," Hoff said. Helping the environment can be good for a business' bottom line, too.
Marshall was named a GreenStep City last year. GreenStep Cities is a voluntary program administered by the MPCA, where participating cities can be recognized for improving efficiency and adopting "green" practices like recycling and conserving energy.