Blossburg Borough, PA Case Study

By Seth Loht, GIS Specialist

Blossburg is a rural community located in northern Pennsylvania in Tioga County. Blossburg originated as a coal mining town in the early 1800’s and the industry thrived for nearly 150 years. Coal mining has given way to natural gas in recent decades and Blossburg has experienced several ‘boom and bust’ periods from this industry. The population of the borough was 1,538 in 2010, decreasing from 1,956 in 1960. The median household income level was $34,924 in 2010, more than $15,000 lower than the Pennsylvania state median.

Many rural communities in Pennsylvania face significant technical, managerial, and financial issues with their water and wastewater systems. Blossburg Borough is fortunate to have very competent leadership and a capable staff, but often faces issues with aging infrastructure and lack of funding. Additionally, the water and sewer authority needed an updated asset inventory and updated water and wastewater system maps.

In 2014, USDA Rural Community Development Initiative awarded RCAP Solutions a grant to provide GPS and GIS mapping services to a number of rural low income communities including Blossburg. The borough manager and public works department have been very involved and supportive of every aspect of the RCAP project. Over a four week period in spring 2016, RCAP and the Blossburg Borough authority staff completed a comprehensive GPS inventory of the water and wastewater system. This data was then transferred to a GIS mapping system. RCAP Solutions also partnered with the Tioga County GIS Department and Tioga County Source Water Protection Coalition to create an online water and wastewater web application to view the authority’s data.

This project allowed Blossburg Borough to have an accurate, detailed inventory of their assets, as well as access to an online GIS platform to view their system maps. This will help them immensely with the effectiveness of their day to day operational work and will also assist with long term planning. Additionally, RCAP Solutions was able to network and establish important relationships with several Tioga County departments and has become very involved with the Source Water Protection Coalition.

Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI) – A small but important funding source

RCDI is specifically targeted to training and technical assistance for rural low-income communities and affords them opportunities they might not otherwise get access to.  The community must be 80% below the state non-metropolitan median household income and below a maximum population threshold of 50,000.  The communities that have participated in utility mapping and managerial and financial capacity building with RCAP Solutions with this funding would not have been able to afford these valuable services otherwise. 

Many of the communities that RCAP Solutions works with have no maps of their system at all or very outdated and/or incomplete maps.  Full system mapping enables them to: respond quickly to minimize threatened or actual interruption of service; facilitate asset tracking and repair and replacement planning and implementation; provide documentation for system upgrade engineering reports and funding applications; and support emergency planning and response activities.  In the northeast U.S., GPS locating of assets is critical in the winter months when valuable time can be lost finding and uncovering system components. The maps are created in both digital and physical formats for the community and they receive training on how to access and manipulate the digital maps for optimal system operation and management.

Under the RCDI program, RCAP Solutions also conducts additional training to benefit lower-income communities including managerial capacity building. In New York RCDI has also helped RCAP to facilitate training of community Code Enforcement Officers and other residential wastewater professionals on topics related to onsite wastewater treatment systems, including fundamentals, inspection procedures, and technology alternatives.

RCDI is very broad in what it allows a Technical Assistance Provider to do to support low income communities and really concentrates on a number of aspects of a community’s needs to foster self-sufficiency and overall community development.

Click on the map below to expand and see locations of over 30 current and past RCDI projects in New York, Pennsylvania, and Puerto Rico.

 

Education is key to implement behavior change

By Edwin Edwin Vazquez-Asencio, Sustainable Materials Management Specialist at RCAP Solutions Puerto Rico

Capitanejo, Guaraguao, Guayabal and Rio Cañas Arriba are rural barrios in Juana Díaz, Puerto Rico (PR) which are served through a USDA-RD Solid Waste Grant.

Since the fall of 2014 RCAP Solutions has provided technical assistance to overcome one of the most noticeable problems in these communities: the improper disposal of solid waste. Even when the municipality provides services such as weekly trash collection and monthly or bimonthly debris removal, many community residents do not participate in these initiatives to reduce solid waste generation. This demonstrates a current lack of interest or knowledge about how to solve their mounting solid waste disposal situation. The most probable reason for this behavior is a lack of environmental education and a low level of awareness of both the problem and its short and long term consequences.

Limited resources and an emphasis on funding and support in urban areas make it challenging to educate and assist rural residents. Important government supported initiatives like the Single Use Plastics Bag Ban (PR ACT 247), which went into effect on December 31, 2016 are very important because they pique the interest of not just urban but also rural communities.

RCAP has conducted eight workshops this year about the reasoning behind the passage of the “Plastic Bag Ban” in rural community schools to educate both students and teachers. They have learned the importance of this act and how they will benefit in terms of their health and the improvement of the surrounding natural environment.

The main goal of the initiative and RCAPs work around Solid Waste in PR is to initiate a process in which reduce, reuse and recycle can be a part of the local culture. A change in adult behavior can be promoted through the education of their children concerning solid waste problems and simple, affordable solutions. The kids have and will continue to assist RCAP in its efforts to modify the community’s learned bad habits and transform them into new positive ones.

“It’s been an excellent experience for our students to participate in the RCAP Solutions Workshops. The ways in which the concepts were taught were great: age appropriate for our students, very concise, using appropriate vocabulary, and captivating students’ attention. All teachers have expressed positive feedback. Our students are putting into practice what they learned in the workshop…and we hope to receive more workshops about recycling soon.”

Prof. Juan Cesari Delgado, Director of Capitenejo School.

Andrews Farm Water Company

Andrews Farm Water Company – Technical Assistance Re-Building a Water System

By James P. Starbard, Massachusetts State Lead

Located in the Northeast Massachusetts Town of Boxford and developed in 1994, the Andrews Farm residential community was the first community built under Massachusetts’s Chapter 40B law. This law requires that a minimum of 25% of the community has an income at 80% or below the area median income.

On the request of USDA’s Rural Development Office (RD), RCAP Solutions met with the community and worked with them to develop an asset management plan using US EPA’s Check up Program for Small Systems (CUPSS). With that asset and capital improvement information and then calculating the depreciation of assets, RCAP performed a system value evaluation which has been accepted by RD to facilitate a future sale of the system.

At this point in the project the focus shifted from assisting the water system through a sale to an emergency situation when on June 17, 2016 at 5:30 pm the community’s 3,000-gallon pneumatic drinking water storage tank exploded. The explosion destroyed much of the water system’s infrastructure including its pump house, and the incident left 53 homes without running water. I was at home watching the local evening news that night and saw the breaking news come in live.

Fox 25 Boston news reported that Brandon Shaw, a visitor to the community that day said: “All of a sudden there was a huge bang, the ground shook, and I heard all the glass shattering…I was walking thirty feet away; if I was a couple minutes later I would’ve been right in front of it.” The contract water operator for the community had been in the pump house less than an hour prior to the explosion but thankfully he has already left. No one else was injured.

Following a joint investigation by the Massachusetts State Fire Marshall Office and Boxford Fire Department, it was determined the cause to be a failure of the tank due to an increase in water or air pressure. “The pressure caused the tank to rupture, which sent a tremendous amount of energy that caused the damage,” reported the Massachusetts State Fire Marshall Office. “The building has been deemed a loss and is off limits to unauthorized persons.”

Fortunately, Andrews Farm had an emergency connection with a neighboring community that was utilized within 20 hours of the incident, restoring water flow to the residents. A few days later, after water sampling proved the water was potable, it was cleared for eating and drinking. The quick response was a testament to the need to have an updated emergency response plan which is exercised and updated frequently as well as a backup water supply within or outside of your own system

The incident was so dramatic it resulted in the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s (MASS DEP) Drinking Water Program to remind all water systems in the Commonwealth to inspect their storage tanks every 5 years, as required, especially pneumatic storage tanks. In that memo MASSDEP reminded systems to follow manufacturer guidance on useful life as structural integrity may be compromised after that. They also mentioned that a very similar incident occurred in June 2015 in North Stonington, CT.

An RCAP Solutions Specialist immediately was in contact with the owner to provide technical assistance and guidance to get the process of repairing the system started, which included many obstacles that had to be overcome during the process. An immediate concern was finding $100,000 to re-build the water system and to winterize the emergency connection which at the time was located above ground. The insurance company for the water system concluded that the cause of the damage to the water system was excluded from coverage, a conclusion the water system did and continues to dispute as they had just had their storage tanks inspected 11 months prior to the incident by a reputable outside contractor who did not note any deficiencies.

The water system had $1.6 million in coverage prior to the incident but in total they only received $128,000 in insurance funds to winterize the emergency connection and rebuild the pump house. This led the water company to seek out other sources of funding to re-build the system.

The water company is privately owned and prior to the emergency was preparing to be sold to prospective buyers including the neighborhood residents themselves if a cooperative was formed. Being a privately owned for-profit water company, the funding options were limited but many were explored with RCAP Solutions’ assistance including a submitted application to our RCAP network partner organization, Communities Unlimited (CU). They have a Revolving Loan Fund, but their loan terms could not be met by the water company, so the system ownership ended up supplying the needed capital to re-build the system which in total was approximately $240,000 above and beyond the emergency connection winterization costs.

RCAP Solutions’ assistance also included technical assistance throughout the construction planning and design stage. The usual process of selecting an engineer, applying for public agency permits etc. were accomplished but additional unusual obstacles were met throughout.

These obstacles included an order from the neighboring water system which acting as the emergency water source, for Andrew’s Farm to re-build their system and be self-sufficient by July 1, 2017 as they were no longer going to provide water to the water company after that date or serve as an emergency back-up supply again. This greatly increased the urgency to re-build as soon as possible and brought about the need for extra water storage for emergencies since this emergency connection would no longer be viable. This decision was ultimately reversed by the neighboring water system’s board and today they continue to serve as an emergency backup source to Andrew’s Farm.

Another obstacle was the FEMA flood maps. The maps showed the original pump house which had been destroyed as being in a flood plain, but this seemed to be an error because areas downgrade from the pump house even were not in a flood plain. This limited the water company’s ability to build beyond the original footprint under local building codes. With innovative design by the water company’s engineer, this obstacle was successfully overcome.

A third obstacle was the water company’s ability to raise user rates to pay for repairs to the water system. Rate setting for this community is regulated by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) and a public hearing was required before DPU’s Board for this request. A decision on the rate adjustment request of the water company is still forthcoming from the DPU and should have a final decision in the fall.

Despite the obstacles faced, on June 21, 2017, exactly 1 year and 4 days from the tank rupture that destroyed the pump house, the newly re-built pump house, storage and control center was put online and features some significant upgrades and technological advances.

The new control panel is the newest electronic technology allowing for remote Wi-Fi connect-ability and control by the system’s owner and contract operator. Also, the building’s side walls were made to be removable to allow storage tank replacement without significant structural alteration.

The extremely quick re-building effort was first and foremost the result of a tenacious owner of the water company, Doug Conn, whose background as a builder served invaluable in the effort. Also, the work of the water company’s engineer and MASS DEP’s involvement and prioritization ensured the project could move along expeditiously.

Mr. Conn was nice enough to write a letter of support and thanks to us for the assistance RCAP Solutions provided during the recovery stating RCAP Solutions “had always given great advice and been attentive to [their] requests” and that RCAP Solutions “had a lot to do with our success”.

RCAP Solutions continues to assist the water company to prepare for an ultimate sale and look for entities that may want to buy the water system including the citizens of the neighborhood. RCAP Solutions has spoken with community members and has offered our technical assistance to them if they wish to pursue the creation of a cooperative to take ownership of the water system.

 

 

Honey Pot Hill Orchards Case Study

We’ve been here 93 years. Why is this suddenly a problem?

Honey Pot Hill Orchards, Stow, Massachusetts

by Mia McDonald, Technical Assistance Provider

Honey Pot Hill Orchards is a family run business located in Stow, Massachusetts, about 30 miles west of Boston. Stow is a small, quiet town of approximately 6,600 residents. When Clifford Martin purchased the 180-acre farm in 1926, he sold apples, pears and peaches both wholesale and retail. His son, Richard, was one of the first in the country to offer pick-your-own apples; and that experience continues with Richard’s son and granddaughter. Andrew and Chelcie Martin are currently the third and fourth generation and run a fully retail operation with pick-your-own apples, peaches and blueberries, as well as a retail and bake shop, a maze and other family-friendly fun and entertainment. These resourceful business owners now operate their thriving family legacy which is currently nominated as one of USA Today’s Best Apple Orchards of 2017.

For the entire history of the business, the farm has utilized one drilled well with no treatment for the labor residence, public bathrooms and operation of the cider press and snack bar. In late 2015, the farm contacted the town health department to inspect a new donut machine in the snack shop. The inspector had recently retired and the town was now utilizing an association of boards who were not familiar with the farm. During the on-site inspection, the farmers were informed that they should be a public water system and that they had already been reported to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MA DEP).

“We’ve been here 93 years. Why is this suddenly a problem?” asked Andrew Martin.

MA DEP had recently discovered many farms and small businesses operating under similar circumstances and all were subject to the same regulations: all were considered small public water systems and were required to take the steps necessary to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act. MA DEP recognized Honey Pot’s well as a transient non-community public drinking water system because it serves more than 25 people more than 60 days per year. Very understandably, the owners were confused at the new designation as they had operated the business without the additional requirements and regulations of being a public water system for generations. They had also heard horror stories from fellow farms who had become public water systems, undergone testing and were now burdened with tens of thousands of dollars in contractor, testing and equipment fees.

As involved and successful farmers in New England, the Martins were already dutifully complying with local, state and federal regulations governing their crops, business and employment practices. They contacted their local Farm Bureau for assistance in resolving this issue without the need to become a public water system. The Martins were hopeful that by reducing connections or usage, they could avoid the designation of a public water system and the additional requirements, fees and costs. They were willing to stop public use of the bathrooms, post signs that stated the water was not potable and only use the water after it had been thoroughly heated. But MA DEP was not open to the proposed changes because of the exposure of the public to the water system.

At this point the Martins contacted their State Representative, Kate Hogan, for assistance in communicating with MA DEP. They were then referred to Massachusetts State Senator Jamie Eldridge. The legislative offices were not able to help as the MA DEP falls under the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. The Martins met with MA DEP in Boston, then in the Central Regional Office in Worcester on multiple occasions. These attempts at discussion and compromise proved unsuccessful. During this time, the deadlines for compliance passed and the farm received an administrative consent order with possible fines. The situation had reached a stalemate.

An RCAP Solutions Technical Assistance Provider for Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island was working with Tougas Family Farm, a fruit farm in nearby Northborough, Massachusetts, on brainstorming new ideas for water supply during their busy apple-picking season. At a Massachusetts Fruit Growers Association meeting, the Martins were discussing their situation with other farmers. The Tougas family suggested meeting with RCAP to see if they could help. The Martins were reluctant as they feared RCAP worked for MA DEP and had little belief that the situation could be resolved, but they agreed to meet and discuss the situation, regardless.

As with many of the rural locations in which RCAP technical assistance providers (TAPs) get the opportunity to work, it was a beautiful site to visit. Even in early March, the gracefully gnarled apples trees rose and fell with the hills that covered the farm. Father and daughter, Andrew and Chelcie Martin, met with RCAP on a chilly spring morning to talk about what had been happening to this farm in the cozy apartment in which the seasonal laborers were soon to reside again. The Martins were trying to finish pruning the apple trees and were anxiously awaiting the arrival of their seasonal help to assist. They were tired and frustrated. They explained the arduous process of complying with the many labor and health laws under which a family-owned farm is subject. Chelcie Martin recounted the year that the health inspection of the labor housing had found that the silverware needed polishing. The laborers were due any day and she spent hours late into the night shining each piece of silverware in order to not delay their much-awaited arrival. They were responsible and caring business owners; but they had enough on their long lists and did not wish to take on the responsibility of a public water system.

After a thorough review of the thick file the Martins were keeping of their correspondence with MA DEP, RCAP had good news and bad news. The Martins’s farm, Honey Pot Hill Orchard, Inc., had already been assigned a public water system identification number and the lengthy application process was most likely not necessary. The Martins were surprised: “We are already a public water system?” Chelcie Martin asked.

The next step was to review the administrative consent order that had been issued to the water system and make a list of the requirements. Although this designation was unwanted, it did save the already very busy business owners from the application process and allowed them to continue down the list of requirements in the consent order. RCAP Solutions provided an emergency response plan and cross connection survey as required by the order. RCAP also drafted personnel plans, a sampling plan and other forms required by the order and assisted in the submission of all documents to MA DEP. All of this was completed at no cost to the system under grant funding from the Environmental Protection Agency. The corrective action plan was drafted at this first meeting.

Chelcie Martin volunteered to become the certified operator for the system. RCAP assisted in the completion of an emergency certification application for licensure to cover her until she met the requirements to apply for full licensure. She attended the RCAP/AWWA full day training on the Safe Drinking Water Act to gain the knowledge needed to pass the operator exam. Chelcie Martin also took the time from her own busy schedule to study materials provided by RCAP and, due to her diligence, passed the exam on the first try.

The final step was to establish communication with primacy to make sure everyone was on the same page. RCAP attended meetings between the system and primacy just to provide support for any additional requirements. MA DEP was pleased to see the progress on the consent order action items. MA DEP’s comments were received and incorporated into the items to be submitted.

MA DEP had seemed pleased with the progress and all action items had been completed so RCAP Solutions closed the project, but a few months later, it was time for the Martins to submit their first annual report for the water system. The state’s electronic filing system would not recognize Chelcie Martin’s operator designation. After a little probing, it was discovered that her application had never been processed past the emergency designation. It is unclear how this detail had been missed, but whatever the cause, the reports were rejected. The Martins reached out to RCAP again for assistance so with permission from MA DEP, one of RCAP’s certified operators worked with Ms. Martin to review the reports and submitted them under his license. After the reports were successfully submitted, Chelcie Martin was able to apply for and receive full operator status for very small systems.

Utilizing their experience with water systems and their existing relationship with MA DEP, RCAP Solutions was able to work with the business owners to bring their water system into full compliance. Through the entire process both the business owners and the primacy agency were looking for more information, but messages were not getting through and communication was failing. RCAP was able to act as a liaison between the water system and primacy to achieve the goals of both sides: continued provision of clean, safe water. The order was fully resolved and the Martins were ready for their busy season to begin in early August.

“It was a very stressful time,” remarked Chelcie Martin. Even after achieving full compliance, she remains vigilant about the new requirements and responsibilities of being a public water system which include maintaining her licensure, water testing and reporting. They are fortunate that their well produces high quality water that meets all standards. The Martins were appreciative of the knowledge and time that RCAP Solutions was able to provide to help them understand the regulations. They are also thankful that the services provided by RCAP Solutions lightened the financial burden they had originally expected with becoming a public water system.

 

 

RCAP Releases Statement on Administration’s Budget Cuts

RCAP LogoWASHINGTON, D.C. – Earlier this week, the Trump Administration released its full budget proposal to Congress. The proposal includes deep cuts to programs that will fundamentally hinder the ability for rural communities to thrive. In response to Administration’s budget, the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) Inc.’s Executive Director Nathan Ohle released the following statement:

“This budget will severely hurt rural communities that have already been left behind. Now more than ever we need to be helping rural communities create opportunities to create good paying jobs, provide safe and affordable drinking water and adequately treated wastewater, and to develop infrastructure that will lead to economic growth.”

“There is a universal need for the federal government to support capacity building, technical assistance, and infrastructure funding in every community across America. The majority of small and rural communities that RCAP serves continue to struggle with capacity, expertise and adequate funding resources. They rely not only upon on RCAP’s technical assistance and training, but also loan and grant funding provided by the EPA’s State Revolving Funds and USDA Rural Development programs.”

“Cuts for safe drinking water and wastewater programs, the elimination of programs like USDA’s Water/Wastewater Grant and Loan Program, HHS’s Rural Community Facilities Program, HUD’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program, the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), and HUD’s Home Investment Partnership (HOME) Program are unacceptable. These programs were designed to help communities, particularly small rural communities, to invest in infrastructure, public health and economic development in some of the nation’s hardest hit areas.”

“Rural communities are the lifeblood of this country, and we stand ready to work in partnership with the federal government to improve programs that create healthy, vibrant and economically sustainable regions. RCAP is committed to working with the White House and Congress to show how this budget as proposed would adversely affect rural communities, and welcome the opportunity to engage in productive conversations that will lead to opportunity for every community across the country.”

The Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) is a national network of six regional RCAPs working to ensure that rural and small communities through the United States have access to safe drinking water and sanitary wastewater disposal. The Partnership provides a variety of programs to accomplish this goal, such as direct training and technical assistance. For more information, visit www.rcap.org or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

CONTACT Bianca Poll, Director of Communications, bpoll@rcap.org 202-470-2808

RCAP Solutions is the Northeast affiliate of the Rural Community Assistance Partnership, providing services in all six New England states, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

 

Drinking Water Week 2017

It’s Drinking Water Week!  

Did you know that RCAP Solutions works with rural communities to promote public, environmental and economic health?  Through our affiliation with the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP), a national network of regional nonprofit organizations, we provide comprehensive, on-site technical assistance and training to help small, rural communities address their drinking water, wastewater, and other community development needs. We provide services in all six New England states, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Some statistics about the work our Technical Assistance Providers offered in 2016:

  • Number of communities  with improved public health outcomes due to RCAP Solutions projects: 151
  • Total Population served: 521,778
  • Low income population served: 135,239
  • Leveraged funding for capital projects: $4.75 million
  • Number of trainings conducted: 47
  • Number of participants trained: 783
  • Number of households positively impacted by  RCAP Solutions training and technical assistance: 71,540
  • Number of students and teachers impacted by environmental presentations and events: 700

If you have any questions about how our programs can support your communities, please contact Sarah Buck at 978.630.6658, sbuck@rcapsolutions.org.

Stay tuned for additional information this week about water and the work we do in small, rural communities.

For more information, please visit our Community Resources Pages here.

RCAP partners with The Health Foundation of Central MA

LogoRCAP Solutions partners with The Health Foundation of Central MA to Assist Rural Communities With Safe Drinking Water

Worcester, MA – RCAP Solutions has completed a project which assisted public water systems in the towns of Ashburnham, Hardwick, Wheelwright, Gilbertville, and Lancaster increase their capacity to plan, operate and manage existing drinking water facilities to ensure their efficiency, affordability, dependability and sustainability. By providing technical, managerial and financial needs assessments, deficiencies were identified, priorities selected, and issues were addressed. As a result, the long-term effects of the project will positively impact over 17,300 residents in small, rural communities and ensure their access to safe and affordable water.

“We are thrilled with the successful outcome of this project which was funded by The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts,” stated Karen A. Koller, President & CEO of RCAP Solutions. “Rural America is right here in our backyard, represented by many communities in Central Massachusetts. We are pleased to be able to fulfill our mission and meet the essential needs of small towns by providing this valuable technical assistance so that community water systems can provide safe, clean drinking water to their residents.”

“Especially because of the extreme drought conditions the region has been experiencing, our awareness of the need for a sufficient supply of clean water is heightened,” said Dr. Jan Yost, President of the Foundation. “We thank RCAP Solutions for helping to assure the residents in these rural communities of their water supply now and into the future.”

Asset management plans were created and implemented in all five of the drinking water systems, offering countless system efficiencies and ultimately enabling the participating communities to be proactive instead of reactive in their decision making processes. These plans help systems identify all of their assets, assess worth, expected lifetime remaining, replacement costs and ultimately look at financial planning to ensure their budgets have room for future needed improvements. Other outcomes which resulted from the project included regionalization studies focused on sharing services to create economies of scale and keep down costs, assistance with federal compliance issues, and uncovering new funding opportunities and potential revenue sources.

The project capstone was a day-long regional asset management training for small water system owners and operators which provided six training contact hours  to 26 attendees including 21 operators representing 17 small community systems. Asset Management may become a MA water system requirement so these three communities and the additional systems that attended the training will be ahead of the game if  a statewide mandate is eventually in place.

About RCAP Solutions, Inc.

Established in 1969, RCAP Solutions mission is to foster personal and public self-reliance and improve the quality of life for individuals, families and the communities in which they live. RCAP Solutions is a comprehensive nonprofit community development corporation that works with communities of all sizes to address a broad range of needs. RCAP Solutions is part of a coordinated nationwide network with an integrated, multi-faceted approach to delivering high-quality services customized to each community’s unique requirements. For more information, please visit www.rcapsolutions.org.

About The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts

The Foundation was established in 1999 with the proceeds from the sale of Central Massachusetts Health Care, Inc., a physician-initiated, not-for-profit HMO. The Foundation currently has assets of approximately $68 million and has awarded grants totaling approximately $36 million to improve the health of those who live or work in Central Massachusetts. For further information about the Foundation’s grant programs, please visit The Health Foundation’s website at www.hfcm.org.

Sister Katherine Byrne’s 100th Birthday

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RCAP Solutions celebrated the 100th birthday of Sister Katherine Byrne, a resident of Hubbardston House Apartments.

The festive Irish event was attended by residents of the property, RCAP staff, and members of St. Patrick’s Parish in Rutland and included a corned beef and cabbage luncheon, hosted by the Hubbardston House Activities Committee, followed by traditional Irish music, cake and the 100th Birthday celebration for Sister Katherine Byrne.

RCAP Solutions manages over 300 affordable apartments for the elderly, disabled, and families in Athol, Bolton, Groton, Hubbardston, Northbridge, Townsend, Webster and Worcester. Hubbardston House Apartments is a senior and disabled housing complex providing 36 smoke free units to individuals aged 62 or older or with a mobility impairment.

Established in 1969, RCAP Solutions mission is to foster personal and public self-reliance and improve the quality of life for individuals, families and the communities in which they live. For more information, please visit www.rcapsolutions.org.

Edwin Vazquez-Asencio Named Rookie of the Year

Congratulations to Edwin Vazquez-Asencio, Sustainable Materials Management Specialist at RCAP Solutions, who received the Outstanding Rookie Award at the RCAP National conference.

Karen A. Koller, CEO; Edwin Vazquez-Asencio, Sustainable Materials Management Specialist; Juan Campos-Collazo, Community Development Specialist and Josefa Torres-Olivo, District Director at the RCAP National Awards Reception

Karen A. Koller, President and CEO; Edwin Vazquez-Asencio, Sustainable Materials Management Specialist; Juan Campos-Collazo, Community Development Specialist; and Josefa Torres-Olivo, District Director at the RCAP National Awards Reception.

This award is given to a staff member who has been with the RCAP program for two years or less, but who has made contributions over and above what would be expected for a new staff member. Nominees for this award have adapted to their jobs quickly, have made positive suggestions and contributions for program improvement, and shown outstanding initiative.

Edwin was hired in October 2014 to implement and lead RCAP Solutions Solid Waste Grant activities under National RCAP’s USDA Solid Waste Grant.  Prior to joining RCAP, Edwin had over 10 years of community education and training experience. Edwin has B.B.A. in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing from University of Puerto Rico and an MBA from the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico. With Edwin’s background in community outreach, education, and organizing, his education in biology, and his passion for social and environmental justice, and to work directly with communities to address these issues, the selection committee felt that given the extreme degree of the solid waste issues in Puerto Rico, we needed an activist, not a technician.  This instinct paid off with dividends as Edwin has been working to organize community clean ups of illegal dump sites and to develop municipal and school-based recycling programs as well as community education and outreach activities.

In Edwin’s two short years at RCAP Solutions, he has been solely responsible for conducting two major community clean up events.

The first in January, 2015 took place in Manzanillo, a small, poor, rural barrio located on the southern coast of Puerto Rico, where the Jacaguas River meets the Caribbean Sea. In total, over 400 volunteers took part in the event, resulting in 15 truckloads of trash – approximately 100 cubic yards – hauled away. This event was conducted only 4 months after Edwin’s hire.

The second, in February, 2016 took place at the Guayabal Lake, located between the barrios Guayabal in Juana Diaz and Romero in Villalba.  It is one of the most important water reservoirs for agriculture activities from Juana Diaz to Salinas, a large region of four to five towns.  It has been used since 1914; providing enough water to develop the sugar cane industry in the region during the most intense period of development in Puerto Rico. Around 300 volunteers and government employees worked hand in hand to recover the lake from the solid waste under the lead of RCAP team. As a result, over 121,704.5 lbs. ≈ 60.85 tons of solid waste was removed from the lake.

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Josefa Torres-Olivo, District Director; Edwin Vazquez-Asencio, Sustainable Materials Management Specialist; Juan Campos-Collazo, Community Development Specialist; and Scott Mueller, Chief Community Services Officer and Director Rural Assistance at the RCAP National Awards Reception.

These events took many months of planning to coordinate. Edwin’s initiative provided a wake-up call and a real movement in the Manzanilla Community. After the success of the Manzanilla clean-up, many communities and agencies turned their attention to RCAP to find solutions in many areas affected by solid waste.  The coordination between federal, state, and municipal agencies and the communities demonstrates the need to establish a more collaborative frame of work to address this situation.

“This is exactly what we need, getting people to work together to protect the environment for future generations,” stated Adrian Alicea, a Park Ranger for the PR Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DRNA), when the Manzanilla report was presented.

Between his start date in October 2014 and January 2015, Edwin planned, organized, conducted trainings, and implemented a volunteer community clean up event in a low income rural coastal community.  The event was a HUGE success.  Over 400 people showed up including local officials, officials from Puerto Rico’s Agricultural Extension Agency, Department of Natural Resources, the state police, the University of Puerto Rico, numerous local Boy Scout troops, church, and school service-learning groups.  NOT TO MENTION the buy-in of the residents of the community itself.  It was so successful that it was reported on by local Puerto Rico radio and television outlets, and served as a cover story for Rural Matters and a National RCAP special video project under production.

In March 2015 – just less than 6 months of his hire – Edwin, provided training, and implemented an event that involved engaging the local schools, getting buy in, training teachers, and planned, organized and ran an event where children were tasked with finding creative uses for items from illegal dumps and litter.

This lead the process to the point where school children are growing seedlings in containers that were or would have entered the waste stream to be used to landscape abandoned areas where the illegal dumping was occurring and an “adopt an island” approach was launched to find local businesses to plant and maintain these areas.

Edwin intrinsically knows that solving problems is one thing and that education, training, and capacity development is quite

Edwin Vazquez-Asencio with Robert Stewart, Director of RCAP, Inc.

Edwin Vazquez-Asencio with Robert Stewart, Director of RCAP, Inc.

another.  He is all about the local empowerment of low income communities and is not satisfied simply achieving his required work load or stay within the confines of his job description.  He is constantly coming up with ideas of how we can better serve the communities he is working with.

Edwin independently developed and delivered training materials that fit the context of the solid waste issues in Puerto Rico and has been assisting on our Puerto Rico Department of Health Sanitary Survey contract.

Edwin has been assisting and in some cases leading resource development efforts to expand our work in Puerto Rico. As a Solid Waste Management Specialist he has developed a collaborative strategic approach with the Government and the communities to deal with the proliferation of illegal dumping sites and the effects of these in the public health. Working as liaison between different agencies including The Natural Resources Department, The PR Solid Waste Authority, the Department of Education, the PR Police, the University of Puerto Rico and other private universities and the municipalities of Juana Díaz and Villaba, he is creating programs and initiatives to create awareness of the problem using cleanups activities to educate and promote long term solutions.

The inclusive approach is considering a multilevel educational effort to address the necessities of students, professionals and government employees.  His design is based in the sustainability of the initiatives considering; reduce, reuse and recycling of the materials that need to be diverted from the landfills. He is the Leader of the Educational Committee of the PR Recycling Partnership for the south of PR; an initiative of the Environmental Protection Agency Region II.

He has been invited to important radio programs in PR such as “La Gente Está Hablando” and “Es con usted la ciestión” on WPAB Radio Station and “La Alternativa Holística” on Radio Casa Pueblo 1020 AM; radio programs related to Social, Political and Environmental Issues affecting the society. In total Mr. Vazquez-Asencio have more than 25 years of experience in administration, outreach and community education, with a strong background in cultural and environmental management.

In addition to this, Edwin has been involved in several volunteer and community projects including:

  • Assisted Dr. Norma Piazza from UPR, Ponce in the study needs for the Federal Department of Education, Title V on the proposal for the development of Spanish study centers using technology
  • Work in the development process of a proposal for Department of Education by the Ponce Art Museum
  • Oriented small farmer from Yauco, Puerto Rico about disposal of vegetal material by using the composting process
  • Founder and developer of literary movement La Peña Literaria
  • Member of Centro Cultural Carmen Solá de Pereira

What folks had to say about Edwin and his contributions:

“Edwin Vazquez-Asencio works with a passion, a virtue that not all Technical Assistance Providers possess. As a small fish in an immense tank of water, Edwin has to dive through the solid waste program with less experience than others with years of experience. He has gone above and beyond, accomplishing more than the tasks assigned under the Solid Waste program and also provides assistance with the drinking water program as well. Edwin has what’s needed to move the Solid Waste program ahead in Puerto Rico; and that is a great heart and the passion to serve people. He has taken giant steps towards positioning RCAP Solutions’ Solid Waste Program in Puerto Rico on the radar, such that local and federal Solid Waste agencies are noticing the work that he has done in such a short time. The Puerto Rico team is very proud to have Edwin on board as someone who assists rural and low income communities and those who live there.” Eng. Josefa Torres, District III Director Puerto Rico & U.S.V.I.

“Edwin is an extraordinary human being that puts the many qualities and skills he owns at the service of the rural communities in need. He has a great capacity for understanding the work along with the communities in helping them to effectively address their problems and improving not only their physical facilities, but also improving their self-esteem. He is an incredibly valuable team member for the RCAP Solutions staff in Puerto Rico.” Eng. Juan Campos, Community Development Specialist, RCAP Solutions Puerto Rico
Comments from volunteers involved in the Manzanillo and Guayabal Lake Clean Up Projects:

 “Manzanillo’s experience was an example of solidarity and empowerment, 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.” Dr. Sandra Moyá of the University of Puerto Rico’s Department of Biology

“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.” Adrian Alicea, a Park Ranger for the Department of Natural Resources

“I have a three year old girl and an eight year old son. 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.” Jayline Olivencia, Manzanillo resident

 “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.” 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.

 “It was an answered prayer, we were looking for the know how to deal with this situation” Eng.  Ruben Estremera, Principal Supervisor Engineer, PREPA South Coast-Juana Diaz Irrigation System.