Several Southern Maryland organizations were recently awarded Keep Maryland Beautiful grants.

The 2021 Forever Maryland Foundation awarded a total of 91 grants — including the nine in Southern Maryland — totaling $312,500.

“We are pleased to see our local communities receive Keep Maryland Beautiful grant funds for such innovative projects which will make an impact on our Maryland environment in many ways,” Forever Maryland Foundation Chair Steve Quarles said in a release.

Charles County’s Beyond the Classroom Inc., Conservancy for Charles County Inc., Keep La Plata Beautiful, Stella’s Girls Inc. and the Charles County Government, Department of Public Works’ Environmental Resources’ Conservancy for Charles County Inc. each received grants. Calvert County’s American Chestnut Land Trust, Project Spudnik and the Town of North Beach as well as St. Mary’s County-based Friends of St. Clements Bay also received grants.

The annual grants were geared toward environmental education, community cleanup and beautification projects, and were awarded to schools, nonprofit groups, municipalities and land trusts in 19 counties and Baltimore city. They focused on developing and supporting communities, families, youth and students who take personal responsibility for the health of their communities, protecting nature in their backyards and seeking ways to help reduce or resolve environmental challenges.

Project Spudnik

The organization, which received a grant for the third straight year, is source for teaching children, youth and adult volunteers environmentally sustainable container gardening, as well as producing vegetables for donation to local food pantries. Last year it donated mire than 635 pounds of produce.

Project Spudnik, which is a Master Gardener-sponsored program at All Saints Episcopal Church in Sunderland, will use its $5,000 grant for materials and equipment to beautify and sustain the main vegetable, children’s, herb and pollinator gardens.

“Volunteering for Spudnik has helped me grow not only in gardening but with living as a person,” said 12-year-old volunteer Evelyn McCauley, who for or the past two years has raised the most potatoes by all volunteers. “Before I started, I was mostly chilling and playing all day on the computer, then I started Spudnik. It changed everything; I really enjoy going outside playing around, but also growing things. Every year we grow more and more food for people who can’t get it from the store. I really think that it has helped me grow as a person.”

Ryan Dickson-Burke is the teen president and primary recruiter for teen volunteers, as well as key in planning and organizing the gardens, while Master Gardener Sherrill Munn is the technical advisor. Other board members include Paul Dickson and Mary Ann Munn.

Huntingtown High School’s Connor Hoffman said “Spudnik is a great opportunity to help out in the community while having fun with friends,” while fellow Huntingtown High volunteer Caydin Edelman added that “Spudnik is a great way to meet with friends and relieve stress.”

Stella’s Girls

The organization recently completed four years of programming aimed at empowering young women all over the world with an online “Women in Advocacy” event coinciding with International Women’s Month.

Efforts included providing youngsters with the skills, education and training to prepare them to become leaders, along with having the knowledge to pass down those skills to their peers. The event brought young people together to listen and participate in a panel discussion with women who have spent their entire lives in advocacy roles.

The panelists shared inspirational stories, discussed the challenges of being women with a voice, and engaged with young advocates while providing guidance on how to stand up for their truth and lead change throughout society.

“I am so excited to celebrate four years of making a true impact in the lives of so many young people from all over the world with this incredible women’s advocate event,” Stella’s Girls CEO and Founder Kaprece James said in a release. “Stella’s Girls started with the idea that if we empower young women to advocate, they will spend their lives continuing to share that same passion and wanting to teach others how to feel empowered in that passion.”

The organization’s education-based programs include Leaders Who Code, which includes STEM education and training; The Sun Flower Program, a peer-to-peer mentorship program that matches high school students with middle school students; The Red Flower Code, which provides menstrual education and supplies to regions struggling with period poverty and more.

Stella’s Girls has also distributed hygiene items, backpacks and 10 scholarships, while also providing mentorship programs, book clubs, and literacy support that take place virtually, making location less of a barrier when connecting young girls and volunteers, especially during the pandemic.

It will use its grant to implement The Green Turnup, a program that will help create a new generation of environmental leaders through a year-long cycle of leadership training, civic engagement, community outreach and education, student-led community action projects, and career development for rural youth.

For more information on Stella’s Girls, go to www.stellasgirls.org. For more information on Project Spudnik, go to its Facebook page.

MICHAEL REID