For nearly 20 years, CBF’s Volunteers as Chesapeake Stewards (VoiCeS) program has been centering people in conservation and the future of the Chesapeake Bay. The program was created in 2004 as a way to reach out to local volunteers and their communities and create a deeper understanding of the Bay and the efforts to restore it.
Since then, more than 900 people have participated in VoiCeS classes throughout the watershed. They’ve learned about a multitude of clean water issues, including fisheries, green infrastructure, environmental justice, climate change, how to be an effective advocate, and so much more.
Many participants take what they learn in the program and put it to good use in their community. As we near the 20th anniversary of VoiCeS, we’re highlighting a few of our alumni and the work they’ve done…
From Naval Base to Nursery
After leaving the Navy in 2012 and settling in the Virginia Beach area, Trista Imrich was looking for a way to get involved in local issues. Imrich stumbled across the Hampton Roads VoiCeS program and signed up for an upcoming class.
The class was just the beginning. During the multi-week program, Imrich was introduced to local issues and conservation groups. Following the class, she worked for Lynnhaven River NOW for six years where she helped establish their Sustainable Yard Program in conjunction with the city of Virginia Beach. The program helps homeowners implement best management practices—including rain gardens, rain barrels, and infiltration trenches—on their property to assist in stormwater management.
Throughout her time at Lynnhaven River NOW, Imrich continued her environmental education, becoming a Virginia Certified Horticulturist (VCH), Designer (VSLD-certified), and Level 2 Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professional in design and installation (CBLP-ID). In 2019, she decided to dedicate her time to Wild Works of Whimsy, her landscape design company that specializes in conservation landscaping and stormwater management with a focus on native plants. Imrich recently took over ownership of a 42-year-old native plant nursery, Southern Branch Nursery, to fuel that focus.
Like many VoiCeS graduates, Imrich has encouraged others to take part in the program when classes are available. “VoiCeS classes are a one-stop shop for learning what the local environmental issues are, who the players are, and what you can do to take action and make a difference in your community.”
Changing Lives by Changing Policy
Georgeanne Pinkard enjoyed the time she spent volunteering with ShoreRivers and conducting water testing on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. But her love of the Bay and nature kept driving her to do more, diving into environmental policy issues. When the 2023 Baltimore VoiCeS class was announced, she saw a chance to get involved and make her voice heard.
“The VoiCeS Program offers participants exactly that: a collection of highly skilled and educated voices from environmental and community organizations that provide an invaluable list of resources and volunteer opportunities. The Toxic Baltimore Tour [a field trip for VoiCeS participants] was an impactful and insightful look at the ongoing social and environmental injustices occurring around the East Baltimore neighborhoods,” said Pinkard. “It is clear that the Chesapeake Bay Foundation leads in advocacy, research and education with the means, muscle, and community voices to make a significant difference within our natural world. I have truly enjoyed the VoiCeS course and am looking forward to actively participating in the program.”
After reporting a mystery discharge in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, Pinkard has been asked to participate in the United States Coast Guard public meetings regarding its emergency mitigation community plan.
Telling the Bay’s Story in Photos
After moving to Norfolk and experiencing her first king tide, Sue Mangan immediately wanted to learn more about the environment in her new home. “I’m from Ellicott City, Maryland. When we got flooding, it was because of a storm, hurricane, or Nor’easter. I’d never experienced anything like a king tide. Folks in Norfolk just drive right through the flooded streets!”
Mangan signed up for the fall 2022 Newport News VoiCeS class to learn more and get involved. “The classes provided a great general base of knowledge about local issues, like fisheries and sewage infrastructure, the history of indigenous tribes from the area and their relationships to the Bay. I also learned how individual efforts can make a difference,” says Mangan. “I felt like a more knowledgeable, well-rounded citizen of Hampton Roads after the class.”
VoiCeS graduates are asked to develop a service project and Mangan decided to put her skills as a visual storyteller to work. Over the past year, she has been documenting CBF bay restoration efforts. She has photographed several of CBF’s living shoreline and bioswale projects in coastal Virginia from start to finish. She not only tells the full story of how these projects make a difference for local waters and the Bay, but also how CBF volunteers are a critical part of the work.
Mangan has also been using her photographs as advocacy for policy change. She has created blank notecards with impactful and relative photographs on the front. These can be sent to local elected officials to urge them to do more for the environment.
From Litter to Fashion
Virginia Beach native Sonya Phillips has always loved the Bay and been involved in local issues. After meeting CBF staff at an event, she became interested in learning more about clean water issues and attended a local VoiCeS class virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic.
She put her fashion designer training to work during her service project to create a dress from plastic litter and was featured in Virginia Fashion Week in 2021.
Phillips says of VoiCeS: “The class teaches you the magnitude of what organizations like CBF are protecting and what you’re advocating for. It is like a personal conversation with the Bay that really opens your eyes to the bigger picture. The Bay is no longer just the water you swim in, it’s something you want to protect.”
Since participating in VoiCeS, Phillips has continued to volunteer with CBF and in her community, including teaching people how to make their own reusable bags out of old shirts. “I want to make a difference in my community. If I go out and teach someone how to do something new, they can make a difference too.”
VoiCeS classes are held regularly in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and now in the D.C. Metro area. Want to get involved? Join our email list to learn about upcoming classes.