by Blase Leven
Harriet Tubman, one of America’s greatest change agents, is credited with saying that “every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” I don’t doubt that Harriet’s words echo loudly for Jack Crumbly, who is working in four of the poorest counties in Arkansas to address high levels of school dropout rates, swelling prison populations, and poverty.
Jack is a retired school administrator and former Arkansas state senator who is leading an initiative to renovate a closed school contaminated with asbestos into a second-chance regional high school and vocational training center known as the STRIVE (Special Training in Remedial Instruction and Vocational Education) Institute of Technology. Last spring, Jack and some of the STRIVE board members attended a workshop I helped to arrange through the EPA Technical Assistance to Brownfields (TAB) Program. Since then, I’ve worked with my colleague Oral Saulters, who is the point of contact for TAB in Arkansas, to provide information about how to get the closed school eligible for federal cleanup funding. We also helped coordinate “funder’s meetings” to identify one-time startup funds.
Over the past several years, Jack and several other retired teachers and administrators have acted on their passion to improve the situation for at-risk youth in Eastern Arkansas, forming a state-approved educational non-profit organization, and creating partnerships with nine school districts that will supply the funds and bus transportation needed to operate the school. The Lee County School District deeded the former Anna Strong Elementary School, named for another Change Agent who labored to provide quality education to the African American citizens of Lee County and who was widely recognized for her efforts.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s TAB Program funds technical assistance to communities and other stakeholders on brownfields issues with the goal of increasing the community’s understanding and involvement in brownfield cleanup and revitalization, and helping to move brownfields sites forward toward cleanup and reuse. The TAB program at Kansas State University works every year with more than 100 communities in EPA Regions 5, 6, 7, and 8. We provide free advice to change agents like Jack on how to go about re-purposing abandoned or inactive properties with environmental issues. If we can’t help, we can usually find someone who can.
If successful, Jack’s project will give 125 graduating students each year and 31 permanent staff a chance to add more than $1 million to local economies in new consumer spending and tax revenues, and will save more than $3 million a year in state funds by diverting adjudicated juveniles away from the pipeline-to-prison system and instead towards productive employment. The monetary value to the greater community would be far surpassed by the value to successful graduates and their families, based on similar initiatives in other states.
I’m hoping that the help we give might be the nudge that makes all of Jack’s hard work pay off. Until then Jack will be making the rounds in the morning, picking kids up on the street and hauling them to the closest school; and in the afternoons he’ll be cleaning out the abandoned school with any helpers he can find. Amazing!
Are you a change agent in your community or want to be one? It’s a lot of work but there are resources out there to help. If you would like to learn more about how the TAB program can help in your community, come to two afternoon TAB events on September 3rd at the Brownfields 2015 Conference.
About the author: Blase Leven is the Technical Assistance to Brownfields (TAB) Program Coordinator at Kansas State University. At KSU, he has managed and served on technical assistance and outreach teams for a number of EPA-funded programs since 1997.