Saving the Earth through teamwork

Published 2:00 pm Tuesday, April 23, 2019

On April 22, people across the world responded to the call to protect nature’s limited natural resources in Earth Day celebrations.

Down in the trenches an incredible group of workers were doing their part to make a difference in their community. It is here, at STEPS’ recycling center at 225 Industrial Park Road in Farmville, individuals with physical or mental disabilities work, earn money to pay their bills, and have pride in their accomplishments while they sort, pack and bail a plethora of recyclables.

Often with mud on their feet and joy on their faces.

“We are proud of our team,” said STEPS President & CEO Sharon Harrup, referring to the six workers who arrive via buses from all over the region. “They care about their work and do an excellent job.”

STEPS’ mission is to lead, coordinate, create and deliver quality opportunities to impact self-sufficiency and reduce poverty throughout the region it serves. A recycling program that employs individuals with disabilities does exactly that.

The engine of community support powers the operation.

“Area businesses, the Town of Farmville and Prince Edward County work with us to make this successful,” Harrup explains. “We owe a special ‘Thank you’ to our partners who fuel the success of our recycling operation and fund the salaries of our workers. Businesses separate the carboard from their waste stream, the Town collects it and delivers it to STEPS. Prince Edward County also provides a steady stream of cardboard, newspaper and plastics that is essential in the recycling operation.”

And there are all sorts of recyclables that flow through STEPS to become new products. Boxes of discarded electronics wait in a sheltered area next to STEPS’ administrative complex. Bales of corrugated cardboard are readied for shipment, there’s piles of aluminum cans getting pressed into a new service, and baled plastic bottles will soon be reshaped to hold new liquids.

Collectively, these are the lucky recyclables whose users chose not to send them to landfill burial.

Last year alone, the recycling center processed 86.71 tons of paper products and 29,680 tons of plastics. The numbers pile up quickly — considering the average American produces 1,500 pounds of paper products and 385 pounds of plastics annually.

Workers sift through the cardboard by hand and place it into the compactor. Tedious? By most standards, yes. Still, ask these recycling team members if it’s a good day and the smile on their faces will tell you there’s joy in the journey.

STEPS’ Employment Services Case Manager Nancy Conner enjoys the process of watching STEPS workers grow in this team environment. They earn through their job, work hard, and blossom through life.

“It really unfolds right in front of your eyes,” she said.

She added, “The money is very important to them. They’re like everybody else, we’ve all got to live. Disability or no disability, we’ve got to have money to live in this world. But possibly for the first time in their lives, they know what they are doing makes a real difference!”

Still, it all starts with a community dedicated to recycling. Without it, there would be no jobs. No smiles.

“We invite the community to come visit the recycling center to see firsthand the impact the program has on the lives of the employees,” offered Harrup. “You will leave with an appreciation of how saving Mother Earth is also providing desperately-needed and community-valued employment and building pride for the dedicated workers.”