With funding from Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership, the North Carolina Coastal Federation teamed up with River City YouthBuild to install several stormwater retrofits at the Shoppes at Renaissance Square in Elizabeth City on April 18.

River City YouthBuild, run by River City Community Development Corporation, provides education and employment skills for economically disadvantaged young adults aged 16-24, often high school drop-outs. They get hands-on construction experience while also learning about entrepreneurship, and the organization offers community service, academic and leadership development opportunities.

Fifteen YouthBuild students and staff spent the day installing a rain barrel and building a rain garden. They also planted and mulched the three small swalesthat were designed by Kathy Mitchell, horticulturist with the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island. These techniques will disconnect impervious surfaces and reduce the volume of stormwater runoff that flows into the Pasquotank River.

The group planted inkberry, sweet pepper bushes, winterberry holly and beautyberry, along with purple muhly grasses.

Ervin Jones Jr., YouthBuild service coordinator, said he learned a lot about the planting process from Mitchell.

“It was awesome to see how a garden can shift an atmosphere,” Jones said. “I was tired but fulfilled. The nugget I got out of the moment is that planting is a planned process.”

One of the federation’s approaches to help people from all walks of life become involved in coastal management decisions that affect their communities. The federation has been partnering with YouthBuild for several years, and hundreds of students have participated in lessons, living shoreline building workdays and other activities. These stormwater techniques were built at Renaissance Square, which is an entrepreneurial project run by RCCDC that assists small, minority-owned businesses.

Damarius Howard, a YouthBuild student, said it was a good experience for him; it was the first time he ever planted something of that nature.

“It felt really good working outdoors and sharing the experience with my peers,” he said.

Angie Wills, program manager of River City YouthBuild and federation board member, said she enjoys the “firsts” that she witnesses in her job.

“For me, I always enjoy exposing our young people to their ‘first,'” Wills said. “It’s really breathtaking to see a project come together. I cannot wait to see the garden thrive in the Hugh Cale community.”

YouthBuild students will help maintain the site and monitor the plantings through observations and photos.

Check out this photo album of the day from the Daily Advance!