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Greener Together projects taking shape

May 30, 2023 | Jason Kuiper | community, environment, products & services
Greener Together
Greg Fripp, founder and CEO of Whispering Roots, works with students on building a raised garden bed using lumber made from plastic waste. Whispering Roots received $50,000 from OPPD’s Greener Together Program to work with students on sustainability, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and agricultural fields of study. Photo courtesy of Whispering Roots

OPPD’s Greener Together Program, launched last year to support involvement in community environmental projects, will soon award a new round of funding.

The second round of voting for the next recipient of funding from the program has begun, and the list of nine project proposals seeking funding whittled down to five.

The Greener Together program is designed to help customers in OPPD’s 13-county service territory collaborate with others to support environmental projects.

“If you are looking to make an impact in our community, the Greener Together Program is an easy way to do so, said Britney Gibilisco, product manager at OPPD. “Joining the Greener Together Program means you are helping local nonprofits do incredible work in our community.”

The first two recipients of funding from the program, Whispering Roots and Habitat for Humanity, both report progress in their projects.

Whispering Roots

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Whispering Roots is using lumber made by First Star Recycling from plastic waste to  build raised garden beds. Photo courtesy of Whispering Roots

Whispering Roots received $50,000 from the program to work with students from grade school through high school on sustainability, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and agricultural fields of study. The nonprofit works with students who live in socially and economically underserved communities.

Whispering Roots is building raised garden beds using lumber made from plastic waste made by First Star Recycling that was diverted from the landfill. The project aims to give students the opportunity to learn how to grow their own food in a sustainable way that will “pique their interest in careers that will allow them to change the trajectory of their economic future out of poverty.”

“We can now get outside, start building the grow beds and get the plants in the ground,” said Greg Fripp, founder and CEO of Whispering Roots. “It’s been exciting to work with the new plastics conversion technology to know that we will have a positive impact on the community, taking a landfill product and making it useful again.”

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Students at Howard Kennedy Elementary School strike a pose with the tools they used to build a raised garden bed. Photo courtesy of Whispering Roots

A group of third graders worked with Fripp on May 25 to construct the first of the beds. Kids who’d never seen much less touched a power tool were using them for the first time in the construction. The bed joined some existing wooden garden beds on the west side of Howard Kennedy Elementary School in northeast Omaha.

These students live in a food desert – an area where residents have little or no access to affordable, healthful food, especially fresh produce – and Fripp hopes the students will take what they learn about growing food home to their families.

“This is life-changing work for the kids we work with,” Fripp said after the students had finished constructing the bed. “This teaches them sustainability, the hands-on, experiential learning. For some of these kids, projects like these – through one grow bed and one school – can change a life.”

Habitat for Humanity

Habitat for Humanity received $80,000 for a pilot to help reduce utility costs for low-income households by providing access to solar energy for homeowners who would otherwise not be able to afford it.

Two homes have been chosen to receive rooftop solar panels.  A third home was selected, but that homeowner’s neighhorhood housing association only allows solar panels on one side of the roof, said Tommy Kellogg, co-leader Habitat’s Greener Together effort. So that home would not collect enough sunlight to make a difference.

Habitat is working with another homeowner and hopes to have that person approved soon, Kellogg said.

The participating homeowners are all participants in Habitat for Humanity’s weatherization program. Kellogg is the weatherization administrative manager at Habitat.

Habitat selected two subcontractors to do the installations, Kellogg said. Both are part of OPPD’s Solar Trade Ally program, meaning they have been vetted by the utility. Using vetted companies smooths the process for Habitat and the homeowners.

“We recently did on-site inspections with the contractors, and they did a great job answering questions and explaining the whole process to the homeowners,” Kellogg said. “Once we get the bids back and approved, we will get permits from the city and OPPD and will install them sometime this summer.”

Two of the homes will have solar panels installed and one will have solar panels with battery storage installed. Using both approaches will allow Habitat for Humanity to assess the return on investment for each type.

The homeowners  have expressed gratitude for the project, Kellogg said.

“We have been impressed with the ease of working with OPPD and the Greener Together Program,” Kellogg said. “I feel like this has been a seamless partnership.”

Next round

There are three tiers of membership for Greener Together, based on monthly contributions – silver, gold and emerald. Tier memberships have different benefits and range from $4.50 to $10 a month.

All Greener Together customers voted in the first round on which projects to fund. Members of the gold and emerald tiers of Greener Together voted in the second round.

“As a member, you help decide which projects the Greener Together Program funds,” Gibilisco said. “And then you watch as the projects come to fruition.”

The program has raised $238,557 through late March and has awarded $130,000 in that same time period.

Anyone interested in the program should visit the Greener Together Community Dashboard to sign up and learn more.

Participants voted on the next round of applicants and their proposals from May 19-26. The first round narrowed the list to nine applicants, and five made it to the second round of voting:

  • Florence Futures
  • No More Empty Pots
  • Open Door Mission
  • Sheltering Tree Inc.
  • Urban Bird and Nature Alliance

Like last year, more than one applicant could receive funding. The program will announce a funding decision in mid-June.

“We always expect to choose one,” said Connor Lewis, a project marketing generalist at OPPD. “But if the amount requested is lower and the budget allows, we may choose the top two.”

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About Jason Kuiper

Jason Kuiper joined OPPD as a communications specialist in 2015. He is a former staff writer and reporter at the Omaha World-Herald, where he covered a wide range of topics but spent the majority of his career covering crime. He is a graduate of the University of Nebraska at Omaha and has also appeared in several true crime documentary shows. In his free time he enjoys cooking, spending time with his wife and three children, and reading crime novels.

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