Donna Curtis found her ‘true calling’ with Shreveport Green

By HARRIET PROTHRO PENROD

Shreveport Green is an organization whose importance and value to our community is immeasurable.

Yes, our community is a better, prettier, and cleaner place because of what this organization has accomplished since its founding in 1990. Yes, they plant trees and pick up litter.

But there is so much more. To achieve its vision for Shreveport – a clean, green, physically enhanced community whose citizens exhibit a strong sense of pride and concern about the environment – the organization’s main premise is education.

Just a few of Shreveport Green’s accomplishments are: 16 national awards for excellence in programming; 214 beautification projects, including planting over 112,000 trees; a reduction in litter as measured by the Litter Index Score of 1.1; a cost benefit to the City of Shreveport $8.97 for every $1.00.

Leading the way is Donna Curtis, who has served as the executive director of Shreveport Green for the last 31 years. 31 years! Curtis says she found her “true calling” when she joined the organization.

Curtis has led Shreveport Green to 21 national awards, 11 Keep America Beautiful National System First Place awards; and four Keep Louisiana Beautiful awards.

You have said that you found your “true calling” with Shreveport Green. How did you get involved with the organization?

I’ve always loved trees – from climbing them as a child to reading under them as an adult. My parents were very aware of the importance of nature in me and my siblings’ upbringing! From identifying them on road trips to planting them in our yard, we were always aware of their place in our world. Then I moved from New Orleans to Shreveport and surprisingly, one of the first things I noticed was how clean Shreveport was!! There was distinctly less litter – and I realized it made me feel better. Years later a friend asked me to serve on the board of the Shreveport Beautification Foundation and I learned that my “feelings’ were rooted in almost a science of civilization!!! A clean environment is healthier, safer, and mentally pleasing. An environment with trees is cooler, calmer, cleaner air, and just prettier!! I began actively volunteering then and have never stopped!!

Can you give us a brief description of some of the programs that have been implemented?

LITTER – We facilitate cleanups almost every week – from neighborhoods to individuals to citywide cleanups. Education programs in the schools; education presentations in the neighborhoods! Clean Business Program – Businesses need to keep their premises clean. Encouraging the city and state to do their part to keep Shreveport clean.

HOUSEHOLD HAZARDOUS WASTE – We collect HHW eight times a year. This is the opportunity for citizens to correctly get rid of hazardous materials they can’t dispose of otherwise.

TREE PLANTINGS – We’ve planted thousands of trees over the last 30 years. We work toward getting those trees planted in neighborhoods – parks, yards, streets – where they do the most good. In 2017, a state grant that was written 16 years ago was finally “planted” . . . all along I-49. We’ve had hundreds of calls from citizens praising that project – most like the beauty, but some realize the monetary benefits as well – cleaner air, cooler air, noise absorption, and a more welcoming feeling. We also have a program, The Tree Legacy Program, that funds tree planting by offering tree planting in public areas in memory of loved ones.

RECYCLING – We “talked” recycling for 7 years before Shreveport implemented a recycling program. The citizens were begging for it. The initial response was overwhelming. Due to some hiccups in the program, some citizens were disillusioned and lost interest. However, we MUST revive a recycling program in Shreveport. Environmentally, it’s important; economically it’s important. It’s a valuable piece of our value as a city and as an economic development part of our place in the country.

 COMMUNITY GARDENS/URBAN FARM/MOBILE MARKET – We’ve helped with community gardens for years, but in the last seven years we’ve gotten really serious about them. Food insecurity is a real problem, and our gardens are providing healthy, fresh produce for our citizens. Our Mobile Market is growing every month! Through the market, we deliver the food to desert neighborhoods for a very reasonable cost and show them how to prepare the food in a healthy manner. We also have a 22-lesson curriculum that we are teaching in the lower grades along with a garden experience. Our Mobile Market is also serving as a sort of economic engine for farmers because we purchase from them; the demand is too high for us to grow all we need to feed the food desert neighborhood residents.

 What keeps you motivated after all your years with Shreveport Green?

The response of the community!! A simple “You are making a difference.” Our citizens want a clean, beautiful city and they are excited and willing to help. Our generous funders – from local foundations to private donations – they understand that a clean, beautiful city is necessary for true quality of life. The longer I work with our wonderful volunteers, the more dedicated I am to making Shreveport a desirable place to live.

What is the most rewarding part of your work?

When someone calls the office and says, “Thank you for helping me improve my
neighborhood!” When I walk through a park and see trees we planted 30 years ago shading a child’s birthday party. When someone tells our staff and/or board that we are making a difference.

What is the most challenging part of your work?

Cleaning a street and seeing it littered within a few days. It’s more expensive to pick up litter than it is to teach/enforce people to dispose of it correctly!! It’s frustrating! We’ve become a disposable, careless society and it shows. Occasionally I realize people think the city is supposed to pick up after them . . . It angers me and also disappoints me that people actually expect someone else to clean up their mess – over and over again!! Along that same line – if you have to cut a tree down, replace it with another tree . . . either in your yard or somewhere else in your neighborhood. Our neighborhoods are becoming so barren – we need street trees and yard trees and park trees!!

What do you like to do to relax?

I enjoy reading, watching films, and eating out! We have so many wonderful local restaurants – it’s difficult to select one. I’m a lapsed tennis player, so I’m attempting to redirect those skills to Pickleball – wish me luck!! I also enjoy walking my dog through Norton Art Gallery’s Gardens . . . good exercise and enjoying the most wonderful part of nature!

What are the top items on your bucket list?

  1. Since I first studied Egypt in elementary school, I’ve wanted to see the Pyramids. I’ll get there!
  2. Deliberately concentrating on enjoying my family and friends – vacations, weekend trips, even visits over dinner.
  3. Teach someone to read – I’m working on that now!
  4. Whale watching – It seems I’ve been in the right place . . . at the wrong time!!

Contact Harriet at sbjharriet@gmail.com