How a small S.C. nonprofit makes a big environmental impact

For Earth Day, Keep Oconee Beautiful Association encourages recycling, no littering

There are many ways to protect the environment. But, for one nonprofit in Upstate, South Carolina, it’s the small actions everyone can do that have a big impact.

Keep Oconee Beautiful (KOBA), a Keep America Beautiful affiliate that’s been operating in Oconee County since 1985, has a simple mission: restore the beauty of Oconee County through education, awareness, cooperation and action. But, taking care of the environment requires everyone to do his/her part, which is not always easy. “It’s a matter of personal responsibility and taking ownership of our own behaviors,” says KOBA executive director, Danielle Pankuch.

Oconee Nuclear Station volunteer picks up litter as part of KOBA's Adopt-A-Spot
Oconee Nuclear Station volunteer picks up litter as part of KOBA's Adopt-A-Spot

Pankuch and her team educate elementary school students about littering, recycling, composting and watershed protection through hands-on classroom presentations tied to state academic standards. They also organize litter pickups in collaboration with local businesses and organizations, and even coordinate with the local sheriff’s office to address litter complaints. “We are a source for supplies for anyone who wants to take part in a litter pickup,” explains Pankuch.

Oconee Nuclear Station employee, Amanda Stevenson, has first-hand experience working with KOBA. Encouraged by Oconee’s plant manager, Stevenson reached out to KOBA to learn how she could help. “When I learned they taught every first through third grader in the county about litter prevention and recycling, I said yes.”

That was four years ago. Stevenson is now the organization’s board chair and an active volunteer. “Many of KOBA’s events are kid-friendly, so my children get to see and learn from my example,” says Stevenson. 

KOBA table at the World of Energy's Earth Day celebration in 2018
KOBA table at the World of Energy's Earth Day celebration in 2018

One of the events Stevenson is particularly excited about is Earth Day in May, an event KOBA has hosted with Oconee Nuclear Station for the past two years. Held in the World of Energy’s butterfly garden, the family-friendly event allows community members to learn how to compost with worms, make crafts with recyclables and take home trees to plant.

The World of Energy supports KOBA in other ways, including exhibiting winning pictures from the nonprofit’s annual photo contest and offering space for KOBA and other local organizations to use for meetings and events. Duke Energy employees also volunteer to pick up trash through KOBA’s Adopt-a-Spot program, similar to the Department of Transportation’s Adopt-a-Highway program.

Three ways to protect the environment this Earth Day

KOBA executive director, Danielle Pankuch, offers a few easy and inexpensive ways you can make a difference this Earth Day.

  1. Bring your own bags when shopping.
  2. Try a reusable drink container rather than buying drinks in single-use plastic bottles.
  3. Start recycling. Learn what and where to recycle in South Carolina and North Carolina.

Oconee Nuclear Station’s support of environmental organizations is indicative of broader company support for the communities where it does business. Over the past six years, KOBA has received three grants from the Duke Energy Foundation and recently received a Keowee-Toxaway Habitat Enhancement Program grant for its elementary education program, “Taking Care of our Watershed.” The program, formed as part of the Keowee-Toxaway Relicensing Agreement, is supported through lake use permit fees for projects on Lake Keowee and Lake Jocassee, and through contributions from Duke Energy.

Perhaps most importantly, Duke Energy encourages its employees to find a community cause they care about and provides resources – whether time or matching foundation dollars – to help its workers pursue those causes.

“I’m proud to foster an environmental awareness and community spirit in my children,” says Stevenson. “I truly feel I’ve gained much more than I have given by being associated with the Keep Oconee Beautiful Association.”

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