By Amanda Ley
Watershed Manager—Broad/Edisto Basins
Champions of the Environment Program Coordinator
S.C. Watershed Atlas Coordinator
Bureau of Water
encouraging, enabling, and recognizing youth environmental education projects that develop awareness, promote behavior change, or improve and protect our water, air, and land.
Over the years, Champions has been providing monetary awards to students and teachers to carry out environmental education projects. By participating in hands-on environmental activities, students benefit the environment and become life-long environmental stewards.
Projects focus on current environmental issues
In the first year of the program, monthly awards recognized students who were actively developing solutions to environmental problems. Winners were featured in a TV commercial, and received Champions’ medallions and savings bonds.
Today, the Champions program awards eight $2,000 grants each year and several smaller grants to help get projects started. Grant winners are featured in a statewide TV commercial, their project is highlighted on the Champions of the Environment webpage, and they receive local recognition for their environmental work.
Over the years, Champions projects have evolved to keep up with current environmental issues. Initially, projects included recycling, gardening, and water quality. Now, this competitive grant program awards innovative projects involving alternative energy, bee keeping, stormwater management, habitat restoration, energy efficiency, and Adopt-A-Stream monitoring. Many schools partner with local environmental organizations, giving students the chance to work on real world projects alongside professionals.
Since 1993, 323 projects have been awarded, impacting thousands of students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Additionally, people all over the state have heard and seen Champion’s environmental awareness messages via the TV spots featuring the winning schools. They are aired annually and are now also featured on social media platforms.
Strong partnership supports Champions program
Since its beginning, the Champions program has enjoyed a strong commitment from its business partners. The team effort between Champions’ public-private partnership has been instrumental to the long-term success of the Champions program, and has made it possible to fund so many environmental education projects. Today, the Partnership consists of DHEC, International Paper, and SCE&G, with assistance from the Environmental Education Association of South Carolina.
Champions’ long-term goal is to foster an environmental ethic in youth that remains intact as they become adults, resulting in citizens who will both respect and protect our natural resources. Some of the first Champions would be in their 40s now, with families of their own, instilling environmental stewardship in the next generation.