RCAP Solutions Changes Lives and Perceptions in a Rural Puerto Rican Community

Manzanillo PR

Manzanillo, Puerto Rico

Manzanillo is a small, poor, rural barrio located on the southern coast of Puerto Rico, where the Jacaguas River meets the Caribbean Sea. Manzanillo, like much of Puerto Rico, faces significant challenges with solidwaste management and illegal dumping, but for Manzanillo the problem is magnified because the debris is washed into the river and ocean only to be returned to the beach and into the community during the all too common flood events in the area. That continuous cycle of pollution, combined with the limited budgets and personnel, made the goal of cleanup seem almost out of reach. Recognizing the need for a comprehensive solution, RCAP Solutions partnered with the Solid Waste Authority of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources to form a community coalition with the goal of cleaning up Manzanillo.

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An example of the waste dumped along the beach.

The initiative attracted a wide range of participants, including the state and local police, local government officials, students from the University of Puerto Rico in Ponce, high school students, teachers, Boy Scout and Cub Scout troops, church groups, and a number of other people concerned with the condition of the neighborhood and its beaches.

In total, over 400 volunteers took part in the event, which took place in January, 2015 and which resulted in 15 truckloads of trash – approximately 100 cubic yards – hauled away.

“The cleanup was an inspiring event for me,” said RCAP Solutions Sustainable Materials Management Specialist Edwin Vázquez-Asencio, “We proved the importance of providing assistance to the communities that are in need, coordinating with local institutions, government agencies, municipalities, the state, and hundreds of volunteers who lined up when needed. We provided the motivation for members of the community to see a new way of thinking about their future, clean and simple. We have a problem with improper disposal of solid waste, and now we are looking for practical and sustainable ways to deal with it.”

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Large numbers of volunteers working along the rocky coast.

Edwin and his RCAP Solutions staff trained volunteers on how to handle waste and hazardous materials. Participants were given gloves, bags, and tracking sheets to map the volume, type, and location of the waste materials. The volunteers were also provided with educational information on recycling, water and wildlife conservation, and illegal dumping and burning.

The residents of the area not only gave their time, but also donated prepared snacks, drinks, and home cooked meals to volunteers throughout the course of the cleanup. Following the event, state police officers dressed in clown costumes, set up bounce houses, and provided face painting and other entertainment for the local children.

Adrian Alicea, a Park Ranger for the Department of Natural Resources, said, “This is exactly what we need, getting people to work together to protect the environment for future generations. This is part of our legacy for them and I’m glad we are a part of it. We patrol the area, try to educate people and prevent illegal dumping, but we need help. We really appreciate RCAP’s initiative to organize and coordinate this event. We need to continue this effort in other places.”

“I have a three year old girl and an eight year old son,” said Manzanillo resident, Jayline Olivencia. “When they see people like RCAP Solutions working with us, they will grow up knowing that if we work together, we can get the help we need to have a better life in our community. My son helped clean the river with his dad. It will help the next generation think differently about the community and the environment.”

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Volunteers fill trash bags during the clean up.

Following up on the success of the event, in March, RCAP Solutions offered a workshop focused on the creative re-use of recyclable and found objects, such as repurposing plastic containers were as pots for vegetables and using toilet paper and paper towel rolls as seed pots for plants in community gardens. School children and their parents raised the plants with their parents, and the plants were targeted for use in the restoration of the problem areas.

Additional support was provided by Keila Rivera, an environmental science graduate student from the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, who assisted with the workshops and researched information about the garbage burning habits promoted in Manzanillo Community. She said, “With this effort, we can say, today we made the change! RCAP Solutions was a helping hand, uniting people and creating an understanding about the importance of protecting and maintaining a clean environment, which will lead to a better quality of life and a better future.”

RCAP Solutions is continuing to research additional strategies that will add value to the areas that were cleaned and recovered from illegal dumping. These include the creation of a land adoption program, where local businesses and community groups take ownership of the landscaping and continued maintenance of public area.

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Volunteers proudly pose on the clean beach, post clean-up.

Cleaning an area like Manzanillo is a just a first step toward solving the significant solid waste issue in Puerto Rico. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the problem has reached crisis levels. The island generates more waste per person than the mainland and anywhere else in the Caribbean.

Although 55% of Puerto Rico’s waste stream is considered recyclable, current recycling rates are between 7-10%, well below the island’s official goal of 35%, and largely limited to urban areas. There are very few drop-off locations, which makes recycling, even for the highly motivated, quite difficult. There is also no “bottle bill” in Puerto Rico. Illegal dumping is common, and littering is endemic.

Most of the landfills on the island are non-compliant. Most rural communities have “transfer sites” which consist of unenclosed dumpsters located on the dirt shoulders of major roads. These sites allow leachates into the aquifers and major rivers that run parallel to the roads and serve as water sources for downstream communities.

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Trucks are loaded withn trash, to be hauled away.

Large items, such as tires and refrigerators, act as reservoirs for rainwater and provide a breeding ground for disease vectors like mosquitoes and rats. An outbreak of Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever in 1994 and 1995, resulting in 4,660 hospitalizations and 40 deaths, was largely attributed poor waste management practices, insufficient infrastructure, illegal dumping, and polluted cisterns.

More recently, Chikungunya, a mosquito transmitted disease causing fever and intense joint pain, has been spreading throughout the Caribbean. The virus alone is seldom fatal, but the symptoms can be severe and disabling. Chikungunya is common in Africa, the Indian subcontinent, and Southeast Asia, but recent outbreaks have spread the disease over a wider range. In December 2013, Chikungunya was confirmed on the Caribbean island of St. Martin, and as of October 2014 there have been 18,109 suspected cases of Chikungunya in Puerto Rico, according to the Puerto Rico Department of Health.

Puerto Rico also faces numerous barriers that make it difficult for communities and the government to implement solid waste reduction initiatives. These include a lack of infrastructure, economics, startup costs, cultural issues, and a lack of capacity.

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The youngest members of the community learn about water and wildlife conservation.

From an economic perspective, low income rural communities do not have the resources to experiment with solid waste reduction systems, and most citizens see municipal solid waste services as a “free service.” There is little utilization of unit-based pricing to incentivize waste reduction/recycling and the infrastructure is not yet in place to provide for these types of systems.

The only current economic mechanisms in place that could incentivize citizens to recycle are the tipping fees at the landfills. However, the fees across the island are low and do not reflect the true cost of landfill disposal. In Puerto Rico, tipping fees average $30/ton, whereas in the Northeastern part of the United States tipping fees average over $70/ton. Also, many believe that increasing tipping fees and initiating unit-based pricing schemes will result in an increase in illegal dumping.

The only other economic incentives for communities are noncompliance fees. However, most communities, if fined, do not have any means of paying the fines. In lieu of payment, the EPA has instead been requiring communities to develop and implement improvement plans.

These communities have limited technical staff available for waste reduction, as well as for operator training, and there is a significant level of need to increase the technical assistance capacity. There is a significant need to provide training and technical assistance for planning, financing, managing, and conducting the community education necessary to develop and operate a successful waste reduction program.

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RCAP Solutions staff members: Juan Campos-Collazo, Edwin Vazquez-Asencio, Josefa Torres-Olivo, and John Linehan.

RCAP Solutions has stepped in to try to address many of these issues with a grant from USDA Rural Development that began in October of 2014. Specifically, the goals are to promote reduction, re-use, and recycling through community recycling programs; plan and implement waste reduction programming; promote the elimination/reduction of illegal dumping sites; and promote collaborative and regionalized approaches that can help address cost barriers and achieve economies of scale in solid waste reduction efforts.

According to Josefa Torres, RCAP Solutions District Director for Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands, “There are many ways to solve the solid waste problem in Puerto Rico with the 3R’s: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. However, I strongly believe the educational component is necessary for the achievement and success of this important initiative.”

While Puerto Rico faces a daunting task in tackling its solid waste issues, the problem must be met at the community level. Manzanillo was an example of what can be done when a community has the leadership and cooperation needed to succeed.

“Manzanillo’ s experience was an example of solidarity and empowerment,” said Dr. Sandra Moyá of the University of Puerto Rico’s Department of Biology, “a reflection on what each one can do for the collective, and a successful learning experience for both the local community and the volunteers involved.”

Praise for an Outstanding Employee

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Note to reader: This is an email that was received last week from a client. This message shows our mission in action and reinforces why customer service is a top priority to all of us at RCAP Solutions. We applaud Jahaira Gonzalez for her professionalism and commitment to her clients while treating everyone she comes in contact with respect, care and excellent service.

Subject: Praise for an Outstanding Employee

Bill Minkle
Senior Vice President and Deputy Director to the President & CEO
RCAP Solutions

Mr. Minkle,

It is not often that I find myself writing an email like this, however, it is my pleasure to be doing so to bring to your attention the outstanding service that I have received from one of your employees, Jahaira Gonzalez, in the Worcester office.

From the moment I walked into the office, Ms. Gonzalez was very professional, attentive and courteous. She addressed me right away and was very helpful and knowledgeable, answering all of the many questions that I had since I was unfamiliar with what services were offered and the process to go about applying for them. She gave me the necessary paperwork that I needed for the RAFT Program and informed me of which days I could come back to meet with a counselor and submit my application. I asked if there was a number I could call if I thought of any additional questions after I left and she gave me her business card and pointed out her direct number.

I returned two days later and the office was full of people waiting. Again, Ms. Gonzalez was quick to address me and ask if I had signed in and brought my paperwork with me, which I had, and then told me to take a seat while I waited to meet with a counselor. While I waited, I observed a very busy office full of people walking about and streaming in and out. Ms. Gonzales impressed me with how well she kept her composure with all that was going on. Both clients and counselors were surrounding her asking questions, the phone was ringing often and she answered everyone’s questions while also managing to answer the phone, make photocopies, and hand out more paperwork and business cards all in a timely manner. I was especially impressed when she answered the phone and was friendly and patient and took her time with each caller despite having a frenzy of people around her waiting for her assistance. She did a great job holding her composure under the chaotic circumstances and treated every client, whether in the office or on the phone, with total professionalism.

Today I called Ms. Gonzalez to follow-up on my application and got her voicemail which stated she would return all calls within 24-48 hours. I left a message hoping that I would indeed get a return call as often times you don’t these days, no matter where you are calling, and thinking that if I did, it probably would be much longer than 24-48 hours. She called me back 3 hours later. I wasn’t expecting that and I was surprised and impressed. I was thinking, “This girl is good!” It was then that I decided I needed to write this e-mail to acknowledge her exceptional skills as she is an incredible asset to your organization.

Before I became unemployed which is what lead me to RCAP Solutions in the first place, I worked as a legal assistant at a law firm in Worcester for over 16 years with 8 years in office environments prior to that. I know how difficult it is to maintain your composure while working under the pressure of a demanding job. It’s even more challenging to remain friendly and to give each client the time and attention that they deserve. Ms. Gonzales is outstanding in all regards and a very hard working employee. Her contributions to your organization deserve acknowledgement as she goes above and beyond for all the clients, as well as the staff. Someone like her is hard to find and you are very lucky to have her.

Best regards,
Jennifer M. Disley

250 New Likes on Facebook!

RCAP Solutions is participating in a Facebook Like Challenge, to gain 500 new page likes during the month of August.

We hit a milestone of 250 new likes, which brings us to the halfway point.

We have our work cut out for us though, as we need 250 more in the next 10 days!

For every “like” our Facebook page receives, $1 will be donated by our generous sponsor, Clinton Savings Bank.

If we meet our goal of reaching 500, our total will be matched by an anonymous donor, bringing us to $1,000!

Please visit https://www.facebook.com/RCAPSolutions and give our page a “like”.

Your one click will make a big difference for many! See below for more info on the work we do.

Thank you!

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RCAP Solutions helps people and communities find pathways to self-sufficiency and expanded economic opportunity. Some examples of who we help:

  • working families in danger of losing their homes
  • families transitioning from welfare to employment
  • domestic violence victims
  • families living in hotels and shelters
  • small communities needing assistance to provide safe drinking water to their residents
  • veterans in need of housing
  • small businesses with poor credit
  • families needing to make home improvements to help a disabled family member remain with their family
  • elderly and disabled individuals in need of supportive housing and services
  • young individuals and children in need of housing
  • first time homebuyers with poor credit
  • rural communities in need of funding to make vital infrastructure repairs
  • Individuals and families with disabilities

 

Support RCAP Solutions via Facebook!

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Help RCAP Solutions reach its goal of 500 new likes in August!

Each like = a $1 donation, generously sponsored by Clinton Savings Bank, supporting the work we do to help individuals and families in need and rural communities.

Please share this information and encourage people to like our page.

https://www.facebook.com/RCAPSolutions

More Exciting News!

If we reach our goal of 500 likes by September 1, an anonymous donor has generously offered to match our funds, bringing our total to $1,000 to help support families and communities!

Professional Operator & Distribution Training

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In need of Training Contact Hours?

RCAP Solutions is hosting two FREE training sessions on Distribution System Water Quality Management. The courses are fully accredited by the state primacy.

 

 

Courses will provide information on:

  • Residual management.
  • Water Quality Monitoring and Sampling
  • Flushing
  • Solving water quality and pressure problems

 

August 12, 2015, 8:00 AM to 5 PM

Public Facilities Building, 99 Central Street, Ashburnham, MA

Will provide water operators with 8 Training Contact Hours. 

OR

August 13, 2015, 7:00 AM to 3 PM

DES Training Center, River Street, Franklin, NH

Will provide water operators with 7 Training Contact Hours.

 

To register, please contact: Mia McDonald, RCAP Solutions, Inc. 

Phone: 508-340-0998, Email: mmcdonald@rcapsolutions.org

Space is limited and registration is required

 

Workshops are generously sponsored by:

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Click the logo for info on Hanna’s toughest portable products

 

Workshops funded by the U.S. EPA through a grant to the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP), a non-profit organization that provides free technical assistance to rural water and wastewater communities. RCAP Solutions is a regional affiliate of RCAP. More info on RCAP here.

We’re Hiring!

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RCAP Solutions is currently seeking a qualified individual to join our team as the Receptionist/Administrative Assistant at our Client Resources Offices in Worcester, MA.

The Receptionist/Administrative Assistant will create a positive first impression for RCAP by providing key support for the organization’s internal and external customers.  This individual will manage a wide range of activities including: incoming calls, greeting clients and visitors, and providing general front desk office support.  The position will also maintain the Resource Center with information in the general area of housing.  He/she will develop and maintain housing resource databases, and assist with outreach activities of RCAP Solutions. This person will assist office management of Worcester in regard to all operational issues to include issues such as heat, building maintenance and snow removal.

For full position description, click here: Receptionist Administrative Assistant

Send cover letter and resume to our Human Resources Department.  Email: HR@rcapsolutions.org or Fax: (978) 630-2751.

Private Water Well Training in Puerto Rico

waterglassRCAP Solutions will provide a free training (in Spanish) on proper management of private water wells on July 22, at Juana Diaz municipality in Puerto Rico. The workshop is geared for those who have private wells for drinking water (business, residence, farmers, ranchers, etc.) or anyone who may want to gain knowledge on this topic.

This training is aimed at providing guidance on individual water wells. It will be an excellent opportunity to engage the panel of experts on: wells for drinking water, proper management and water quality guidelines, conservation and potential sources of contamination.

Sponsored by US EPA. For additional information see the links below.  To register, contact Edwin Vazquez : evazquez-asencio@rcapsolutions.org or (787) 725-6523.

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1 Invitación Introducción al Cuidado de Pozos Individuales

Free Private Well Safe Drinking Water Workshop

Join us anwaterglassd learn about proper management of private water wells and springs. 

Thousands of people in Massachusetts rely on private wells for their drinking water.  These wells are the responsibility of the homeowner.  It is up to you to make sure that your well is providing clean drinking water and we want to help!

Workshop will provide information on:Well

  • Water well location & construction
  • Maintenance and management of existing water wells
  • Solving water quality and quantity problems

The Workshop will also include live participation in a webinar in affiliation with the Private Well Class, performed by Steve Wilson, a groundwater hydrologist from the University of Illinois.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2015, from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM, (Registration at 6:00 PM) 

Mount Wachusett Community College, North Café, 444 Green St, Gardner, MA

Register Today! Click here or call 978-630-9525

The workshop is free, however advance registration is requested.

This complimentary workshop is funded by the US Environmental Protection Agency, through a grant to the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP), a non-profit organization that provides free technical assistance to rural water and wastewater communities. RCAP Solutions is a regional affiliate of RCAP.

Apartments Available

HubbardstonHouse1Brochure-PApplications are now being accepted for Studio apartments at Hubbardston House Apartments, 1 Old Princeton Road Cut-Off, Hubbardston, MA.

Applicants must be 62 years of age or older, or if under 62, mobility impaired requiring the features of an accessible unit and must be income-eligible and meet HUD established income guidelines.

For more information or an application, contact our property management office at 978.928.5922. TY 978.630.6754.

Click here for our full flyer:  Studio Flyer_Hubbardston_June2015

Click here for our housing application: Application – Hubbardston House Apt.

Free water testing and workshop in PA

water workshopResidents who rely on a private well, spring or cistern for their drinking water can receive  on Tuesday, June 2 at the Penn State Extension office in Montgomery County, PA.

This clinic will provide education on proper location, construction, testing, maintenance, protection and treatment of private drinking water wells, springs and cisterns. Participants can bring a sample of their drinking water for on-site water testing for several basic water quality parameters including coliform bacteria, E. coli bacteria, pH, total dissolved solids, and nitrate. All tests except bacteria will be done during the two hour clinic.
Pre-registration is required and space is limited to 80 attendees per session and free water testing is limited to one sample per household and 30 total samples per session. Registered attendees will be given more information about how to collect water samples for the workshop.
For more information or to register, contact Ms. Sukh Singh, RCAP Solutions, at 412-554-2572 , email: ssingh@rcapsolutions.org or click here for brochure:  PA_Montgomery county sdwc
The registration deadline is May 29, 2015. The workshop is sponsored by Penn State Extension, RCAP Solutions, and the Penn State Master Well Owner Network.