Remember the ‘Crying Indian’?

Keep Virginia Beautiful reviving crusade against litter.

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Print this page by Joan Tupponce

Mike Baum has vivid memories of Keep America Beautiful’s 1971 “Crying Indian” public-service announcement when he was growing up. One of the most successful advertising campaigns in history, the video ends with a tear running down the cheek of an American Indian after he examines the effects of litter and pollution. “It was amazing,” says Baum, the executive director of Keep Virginia Beautiful. “It showed the impact of litter and how one individual can make a difference.”

Baum credits the formation of the Virginia Anti-Litterbug Council in 1953 — the genesis of Keep Virginia Beautiful — to that same one-individual-makes-a-difference scenario. (The Virginia organization is a state affiliate of Keep America Beautiful, also founded in 1953.)

The council started after someone contacted Gov. John S. Battle to voice concerns about litter on the state highways. “That person was persistent,” says Baum. “So many things happened because of one concerned citizen” whose name remains unknown.

Keep Virginia Beautiful serves as the statewide voice for litter prevention, waste reduction, recycling initiatives, beautification and environmental education. “Our mission is to engage and unite Virginians to improve our natural and scenic environment,” says Baum.

The methods used by the organization to carry out that mission have changed in the past 60 years. From the 1960s to the 1980s, the volunteer-run group created several longstanding small community programs as well as a statewide awards program. But the movement began to founder in the 1990s when state budget cuts eliminated its main source of funding. The group also struggled to stay connected to its constituency. “There was stagnation,” says John Deuel, the executive director of Keep Norfolk Beautiful,  who served as a consultant in the organization’s relaunch in 2009. “There was not a lot of rejuvenation over the years.”

As part of its relaunch, Keep Virginia Beautiful adopted a new strategic plan and hired Baum to guide its efforts. Since then, it has been aggressive in developing programs and creating partnerships. “It has become newly vibrant,” says Deuel.

The organization is now funded by a variety of sources. The majority of its money comes from grants from supporters such as Altria Group, Wal-Mart, Dominion Resources, Waste Management and Lowe’s. It also raises money by staging events such as the KVB Gala scheduled for Oct. 5 at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. “Events like the gala help fund our initiatives across the state such as litter prevention awareness and increasing recycling at festivals and events,” says Baum.

Campaigns such as 30 Grants in 30 Days and GIVE 60 are helping the organization increase its exposure across the state. This year marks the third year for the 30 Grants in 30 Days initiative, which gives away grants to 30 community groups in 30 days for litter prevention, recycling programs and beautification efforts. Grants range from $500 to $1,000.

The GIVE 60 campaign offers families and businesses the opportunity to either give 60 minutes of their time volunteering in their communities or $60 to KVB. “We are encouraging folks like we did 60 years ago to make a difference,” Baum says.

To spread its message, KVB is tapping into social media and offering a variety of outreach efforts on its website. “We share the positive results and opportunities that other groups are doing,” says Baum. “We also promote our efforts through state agencies like the Department of Environmental Quality, Virginia State Parks, Virginia Green [the green arm of Virginia Tourism Corp.] and other organizations.” Last fall, for example, the organization placed 250 95-gallon recycling carts in state parks to supplement the parks’ recycling efforts.

Recycling is a major focus. The organization is working with the City of Richmond to make outdoor events in the city as green as possible. Thanks to a grant, it purchased 100 roll-off carts with recycling logos. The carts were used at 22 events last year, including Broad Appetit and the Richmond Folk Festival. “We had over 24,000 pounds of recycling because of this initiative,” Baum says.

Stopping littering is an ongoing effort. Despite vivid public memories of that 1971 PSA, people continue to toss out trash. “Cigarette litter is one of the largest forms of litter in America,” says Baum. “Part of what we do is create awareness that it is litter and provide opportunities for people to dispose of products like that. We distribute pocket ashtrays at events. We gave away over 2,000 at The Richmond Folk Festival last year.”

Last year Keep America Beautiful chose KVB to host the National Days of Action, part of the Great American Clean-Up, in Hampton Roads. It completed 90 projects in two days. “We had over 1,700 volunteers and we picked up 125,000 pounds of trash and planted trees all over Hampton Roads,” Baum says. “This was a regional effort with all the Hampton Roads jurisdictions. We had corporate volunteers, individuals and military groups coming together to deliver long-term results for [the area].”

Baum is excited about the organization’s potential. “We are trying to make a positive and lasting impact just like the impact of the ‘Crying Indian.’”

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