Paint Me A Picture

A Maine operator association’s poster contest creates goodwill and gets great publicity during the state’s official Clean Water Week.
Paint Me A Picture
From left, second-place winner Sophie Irons; first-place winner Nick Rocray, third-place winner Faith Ledger.

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Nothing calls attention to clean water like a picture in the paper — or a segment on TV — showing kids holding posters and posing with the governor.

At least that’s how it looks to Matt Timberlake and members of the Maine Wastewater Control Association (MWWCA), which sponsors a poster contest each year during Maine Clean Water Week, the first full week of June.

Timberlake, who runs the contest as the association’s public relations chairman, calls it a way to go to state residents with a unified message about the importance of water and the clean-water profession. Last year’s contest drew some 300 entries; with expanded eligibility and more promotion, Timberlake wants to see it get bigger in 2014.

“It has been a great way to promote our organization and the work our members do to keep Maine’s waterways clean and safe,” says Timberlake, a vice president with The Ted Berry Company, a municipal and industrial service company in Livermore. “Besides giving us name recognition, it engages the kids and gets them thinking about clean water. It’s a fun program to be a part of.”

Recognizing progress

The state legislature designated Maine Clean Water Week in 1983 to raise public awareness of improvements to state waterways, and a big reason for the improvements was the work of collection system and treatment plant personnel.

Maine has historic ties to water quality: A primary sponsor of the federal Clean Water Act of 1972 was Senator Ed Muskie of Rumford, Maine. “He grew up on the Androscoggin River, which at one time was on the Top 10 list of most polluted rivers in the country,” Timberlake observes. The poster contest started in 1990 under the theme, “What Clean Water Means to ME.” The theme had a double meaning, since ME is the postal abbreviation for Maine.

“The contest is relatively simple,” says Timberlake. “It’s been open to students in grades three through eight. Every year, the students submit their posters, and the MWWCA executive committee judges them at the spring conference. We typically do an awards presentation at the fall conference. In recent years, we’ve also asked the governor to be part of a presentation at the statehouse. The past four governors have accepted.”

First, second and third prizes were given, and the first-prize winner’s school received a gift from the association, such as a microscope, a TV/VCR or cash. In addition, the top 12 posters were made into a calendar, distributed to treatment plants and schools around the state.

Changing the rules

For 2014, the contest will be expanded, and a winner will be chosen in each of four divisions: grades one through three, four through six, seven through eight and nine through 12.  Meanwhile, the nearly 50-year-old MWWCA will be known as the Maine Water Environment Association (MeWEA) beginning in April 2014.

The new theme is “Why Clean Water’s Worth It to ME,” a play on the theme of a Water Environment Federation awareness campaign embraced by the MWWCA and the New England Water Environment Association.

To promote the contest, the MWWCA sends letters and contest guidelines to every school in the state. This year the group is looking for a local celebrity spokesperson. In addition, Timberlake is challenging members to go farther by contacting their local schools personally.

Last year, a science teacher at Thomaston Middle School received the guidelines and asked Timberlake if an operator could visit his classroom. “John Fancy from Thomaston and Mike Courtenay from Warren went out and did a presentation,” Timberlake says. “The students loved it. We received about 30 posters from that school.”

Timberlake made a visit of his own last year to his son’s first-grade class at Central Maine Christian Academy in Lewiston. He “went a little rogue” and helped the younger kids make posters, even though first-graders weren’t officially eligible. A third-grader from the same school had her poster chosen for the 2014 calender.

Reaping rewards

The MWWCA publicizes the winners by issuing a press release; the governor’s office typically does the same. The releases usually are picked up statewide. Timberlake sees advantages in running the contest at the association level: It enables delivery of a consistent statewide message.

He sees signs the message is taking hold. At the 2013 awards presentation at the statehouse, he thanked first-place winner Nick Rocray, a sixth-grader from Waterboro, for taking time to create his poster.

Says Timberlake, “He told me, ‘No, we should be thanking you and your association for all you do. You are the ones who keep the water clean. We just did the posters.’ It was neat that he understood the work we do, because often we don’t think anybody notices. If we can educate kids early, then hopefully they’ll carry that knowledge for the rest of their lives. Maybe some will grow up to be operators.”   


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