The Center for the Environment at Catawba College will receive nearly $1 million from the N.C. Department of Transportation to help educate the region and catalyze efforts to improve air quality. The NCDOT has committed to funding 80 percent of the $1.3 million project. The center must raise the remaining 20 percent.
"We at Catawba College are most pleased and proud to have received this grant from the North Carolina Department of Transportation," says Dr. Craig Turner, president of Catawba. "Not only does it show the high regard the state has for our Center for the Environment, but it also allows us to make a difference for the people of our region. Dr. John Wear and the staff at the Center for the Environment are excited and anxious to continue their work to improve the air quality in this area."
The center began its Air Quality Initiative in 2003 when the American Lung Association ranked Rowan and Charlotte-Gastonia-Salisbury as areas with some of the worst air quality in the nation. The American Lung Association's 2007 report lists Charlotte-Gastonia-Salisbury as the 16th worst metropolitan area for ozone pollution.
The center has assumed a leadership role in this effort to reduce ground-level ozone by bringing numerous experts to the campus to talk to government officials, community leaders and concerned citizens about the various approaches to mitigating the pollution, which affects the health of area citizens and the health of the economy.
"We would never have received this DOT grant without the sponsors who invested in the early efforts of our Air Quality Initiative," says Wear, center director. "Their support has made this possible."
The original investors include: F&M Bank, SunTrust Bank, Wachovia Bank, First National Bank, Bank of North Carolina, Power Curbers Inc., County of Rowan, City of Salisbury, Fred & Alice Stanback, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, the Blanche & Julian Robertson Family Foundation and Catawba College.
Wear notes that the center will seek new sponsors in addition to the original ones for this phase of the initiative. "It is important that we broaden that base and show a high level of commitment throughout this entire community as we proceed with this project," he says. "One of our challenges will be to raise the 20 percent matching funds."
Paul Fisher, chairman of the board and CEO of F&M Bank and newly elected chair of the Catawba College Board of Trustees, says the grant is recognition of the success of the Air Quality Initiative begun five years ago. "F&M was pleased to have joined other banks, companies and foundations in 2003 that had the vision and foresight to understand there were air quality problems and that Catawba, through the Center for the Environment, was in a unique position to make a real difference in this real problem.
"The grant validates our early thoughts and confirms our early mission," Fisher says. "Now the center is on the front lines in fighting poor air quality, and very well should be. The center earned the right to be there. We are duty bound to follow through."
Wear explains that the grant will allow the center to increase its educational efforts and activities on this important issue. The center already has a vast regional and statewide network of organizations that have served as partners in its efforts during the past several years, he says. In addition, the recent conference on Faith, Spirituality and Environmental Stewardship gave the center the opportunity to build grassroots support through North Carolina's faith community.
The new funds will allow the Center for the Environment to bring in experts who can offer various viewpoints on air quality-related topics, which will provide valuable information for those involved in community planning and development. The center will get input from different entities, including government officials and community groups, on potential topics and speakers.
It will also expand its Air Quality Initiative to include an educational component designed specifically for the public schools.
Part of the educational process will involve encouraging Rowan County leaders to take primary roles in making the changes needed to stem air pollution, says Wear. "It's got to start with us, regardless of whether we are the primary causes of the pollution. Then it's up to the center to take that model to the surrounding counties because, in truth, it's going to take us all to solve the problem."
He quotes Gandhi: "Be the change you want to see in the world." That willingness to take a leadership position, says Wear, can catalyze change that will help solve the problem.
Catawba students also stand to benefit from this project because they will have increased opportunities for internships and added exposure to a variety of experts on air quality-related issues.
"I am thrilled about having all these experts on our campus," says student Dan Robertson. "When we had the last Clean Air Lecture Series, it was one of the most valuable experiences I have had. Not only did the lectures allow us to further our knowledge of a specific environmental issue; they also allowed us to see how what we were learning in class was being applied in the 'real world.'"