Thursday, July 15, 2010

Cranston leads the way to green

Cranston Herald
July 15, 2010

Two Cranston residents were recognized individually for their work with the environment recently. Steven Stycos and Karen Verrengia each received a 2010 Environmental Merit Award in Boston.

According to the EPA, the merit awards recognize individuals and groups whose work has protected or improved the region’s environment in distinct ways.

The awards, which were established in 1970, were given out in conjunction with the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day.

“Today, on this milestone anniversary of Earth Day, I’d like to acknowledge and honor people, communities and businesses that have made significant strides in protecting New England’s health,” said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA New England.

Spalding noted, during ceremonies to honor the winners, that President Obama issued an Earth Day challenge to Americans to take action – in homes, in the community and in schools or businesses, to improve the environment.

“I really didn’t understand just how big this was,” said Verrengia, who is the Energy Manager for the Cranston Public Schools. “I almost didn’t go, then at the last minute, I called and I went. I’m so glad I did.”

There were several different types of awards given, including the individual merit awards that Stycos and Verrengia received, as well as group awards and lifetime awards.

Although Stycos is known for his work on the Cranston School Committee, his other passions include protecting the Pawtuxet River and supporting Rhode Island Farmers.

He currently serves as the president of the West Bay Land Trust. He created and maintains a network of walking trails and offers canoe rides and nature walks to the public. He founded Friends of the Pawtuxet in 1982 and is still a leader of the organization. He also helped to launch and still coordinates the Pawtuxet Village Farmer’s Market.

Stycos is responsible for connecting the Cranston Public Schools with local farmers so that students purchasing school lunches are eating locally produced, farm-fresh foods during the school year.

“The Farmer’s Market is held at Rhodes-on-the-Pawtuxet each weekend from May to November and has been going on for eight years,” he explained.

Stycos said that, like Verrengia, he was surprised to find out that he’d been nominated for an award.

“It was fun though, to see what other people [receiving awards] were doing. They were all doing their little piece and there were some very creative ideas,” he said.

Stycos said that he was pleased to see Verrengia recognized for her work. As the CPS Energy Manager, Verrengia has worked tirelessly to make the school buildings more energy efficient, and started from scratch when she took on the job.

“I was glad to see Karen get recognized,” he said. “It was a bit of a push to get the district to recognize the energy issues, but now it’s really taken off.” Verrengia agreed.

“There are people all around the country tracking us now. People are really starting to look and pay attention not just to our program, but to the environment. It took two to three generations to get into this and now it’ll take 10 years or more to pick up the pieces,” she said.

Verrengia was nominated by someone she’d never even met from the EPA of Rhode Island. Stycos was nominated by Peyton Flemming, with whom he started the Farmer’s Market.

“He didn’t tell me he was nominating me, but he kept calling and asking for my wife. I didn’t know why though, until I got the e-mail,” he said.

Verrengia said it was quite the experience attending the event, which was held in Faneuil Hall in Boston.

“It was all very inspiring: the building, the history, the people,” she said.

Verrengia and Stycos said that at the ceremony itself, each person was individually recognized and the letters of nomination were read.

“It was exciting to see all the letters that were written,” Verrengia said. “When you’re working and doing your work every day, it seems so incidental. Or, if you ask to do something bigger, it seems like nickels and dimes [that would be saved] but it really does add up.”

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