Multiple Activities Energize Outreach at ACUA

An engaging mascot, recycled art contest, Earth Day festival, rain barrel workshops and more highlight a New Jersey utility’s diverse outreach program

Multiple Activities Energize Outreach at ACUA

The Supercan mascot is a popular attraction at ACUA functions and other community events.

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Atlantic County Utilities Authority finds multiple ways each year to deliver its message of environmental stewardship.

“Our president, Richard Dovey, has a long history of getting the community and children involved in learning the importance of what we do here and how it helps the environment,” says Amy Cook-Menzel, communications manager. “There’s something for everyone.”

The authority, in southern New Jersey and serving a population of 275,000, operates a 40 mgd wastewater treatment facility in Atlantic City. The plant includes the Jersey Atlantic wind farm and has 2,700 solar panels and a 1 MW battery storage project on its grounds.

All seasons

The education and outreach programs are available all year and cover all ages. “We plan to add and refine some of the current programs, but for now one focus is on promoting careers in water, especially for the children,” Cook-Menzel says.

Treatment plant tours are a key component of outreach. While on tour, visitors learn how the utility treats the water. They also tour the wind farm and solar panel area. All ages and even some visitors from other countries take the tours, which are offered year-round.

“The work we do here is important,” Cook-Menzel says. “We stress that to the children who take our tours, and we ask them to think about a career here when they get older.” That messaging accompanies other activities, too. They include:

  • Earth Day festival. Celebrating 30 years in 2022, the festival attracts some 10,000 visitors from within and outside the service area. Food trucks, over 100 vendor booths, a hay maze at the recycled playground and treatment plant tours are just some of the activities.
  • Recycled art contest. All ages make artwork out of recycled items and drop their entries off at local libraries, which display them. ACUA staff members judge them based on age categories and award cash prizes. Winning entries are displayed at utility events.
  • Drive Electric Celebration. The authority showcases the conversion of its fleet from biodiesel to compressed natural gas, along with electric vehicles. The event features local fleets, car dealers and EV owners as well as an online workshop with industry experts.
  • Environmental Stewards Program. Partnering with Rutgers Cooperative Extension, the authority provides 15 weeks of classroom and 60 hours of fieldwork to certify residents. Since 2008, more than 200 have passed through the program.
  • Garden Talks. Also offered with the Rutgers Extension, this monthly all-ages offering invites residents to community gardens at the ACUA facility to learn gardening methods.
  • Master Composter training. Residents get 12 hours of training through online courses and fieldwork, then complete volunteer hours to achieve certification. More than 90 have attended.
  • Rain barrel workshops. The authority holds workshops to instruct residents how to build 55-gallon rain barrels, where to put them and how to use them. About 30 barrels are built each year.
  • Fall Clean Communities Challenge. Adopt-A-Road groups compete to see who can pick up the most material during October. Throughout the year, ACUA supports residents, community groups and families cleaning up their communities with supplies, mini-grants and an annual recognition dinner.

Supercan to the rescue!

Thousands attend these activities, some of which have been available for 30 or more years.

“All of our activities are well attended, but by far the most popular is our Earth Day festival,” says Cook-Menzel. “Families and people from all over attend every year. In addition to help from  many staff of over 250 helping out, we have many community volunteers.”

A popular attendee at events is the authority’s mascot, Supercan, created by way of a several years ago. Displaying the utility’s colors of blue and green, he shows up at many events and is invited to classrooms, community gatherings and mascot races and activities, spreading a message of environmental stewardship.

Says Cook-Menzel, “He is hugely popular and a big hit with all ages wherever he goes.”


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