OKC Beautiful plants the seeds for environmental improvement

OKC Beautiful’s Mother Earth Program occurs at an Oklahoma City elementary school. (Provided)

OKC Beautiful, a non-profit organization based in the metro, is aiming to better the community by offering environmental and education-based programs to residents. 

The non-profit originally started in 1962 as a city commission called the Mayor’s Committee for City Beautification before branching off in March 1971 to form the 501(c)3 non-profit known today. 

Oklahoma ranks No. 43 in the nation for green states, according to a study done by WalletHub. OKC Beautiful hopes to change that. 

“We have a unique struggle in Oklahoma whenever it comes to any type of policy or advocacy development,” said Micah Stover, education director at OKC Beautiful. “Just being kind of the nature of a traditional oil and gas state.” 

However, the organization remains faithful to promoting more environmentally friendly practices that they believe will benefit all Oklahomans. 

“Whenever it comes to environmental work, there’s not really borders between states, there’s not really borders between countries,” said Natalie Evans, the program and marketing director at OKC Beautiful. “The things we do here impact the entire world.” 

Stover said the organization finds it especially important to promote environmental stewardship to empower Oklahoma’s children, teens, and young adults to become future leaders in environmental work. 

One of the most popular programs, Mother Earth, reaches around 20,000 elementary school students annually. The program teaches students about nature and the environment through a school-wide interactive play. 

A volunteer cleanup crew poses with results of their work. (Provided)

Another program hosted at elementary schools across the metro, OKC Harvest, gives children from first through fourth grades the opportunity to learn about garden preparation, planting, growing, and eating healthy foods. In 2022, about 1,400 students in the metro were involved with this program. 

“It allows them the opportunity to start filtering out some of the noise that they might encounter in their daily lives through modern technology and the internet and so many pressures that they’re used to,” Stover said. “It’s a really grounding experience for a lot of children.” 

The organization also offers a program called Earth Academy for high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Students who are accepted into this program learn through interactive sessions and community service projects.  

Stover said that she has seen many teens go from being involved with this program to pursuing careers in environmental work in their adult lives.

In addition to the programs for the younger generation, OKC Beautiful also hosts social programs for adults. 

One such program is Grow OKC, which offers a variety of classes to community members. Each month, a different topic is covered including topics such as vermicomposting, sustainable wreath making, environmentally friendly yards, and more. 

Volunteers plant trees in Oklahoma City with OKC Beautiful. (Provided)

Every Wednesday of the month, there is also an event called Sustainability Social Hour where community members can network with other people who are involved in environmental stewardship. 

Many more programs focus on cleanups and bettering the landscapes in Oklahoma City including programs such as Tree OKC, LitterBlitz, Landscapes, Cigarette Litter Prevention, Adopt-A-Park, and their Recycle Bin Loan Program. 

The non-profit has several events planned for the upcoming year. One focus will be on tree planting in an effort to restore the natural canopy to block heat in Oklahoma City neighborhoods. 

“Climate predictions are showing that we’re going to have 28 additional days of 100 plus degree temperature by 2060,” Evans said. 

The OKC Harvest program reaches elementary school students in Oklahoma City. (Provided)

In an attempt to combat this issue, Evans said the organization is hosting a large-scale volunteer event for multiple neighborhoods in Oklahoma City. The biggest event, the John F. Kennedy neighborhood project, will be held in November and their goal is to plant 300 trees in one day. 

Beyond the specific projects planned for this year, Evans said they also are planning to ramp up education programs, focusing on bringing more adults into the organization.  

In 2022 alone, the organization engaged with over 5,000 volunteers, reached over 15,000 students, collected over 125,000 pounds of litter, planted 800 trees, and maintained 39 landscaping projects in Oklahoma City. 

If you are interested in volunteering with OKC Beautiful, you can find out more information on their website okcbeautiful.com.

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