Congregational Stewards Care for Creation


Before becoming involved with WSA, Annapolis resident Umar Jamal noticed restoration projects installed at the Annapolis Vistor’s Center and the Toyota dealership on West Street. These projects sparked his interest in taking action for clean water in his community.

When WSA reached out to Umar’s faith community, the Islamic Society of Annapolis, he was excited to jump on board. “WSA was willing to educate us and help us understand the problem and the solution,” he said. After attending the three week Congregational Steward training in the spring of 2016, Umar was ready to get to work.

We have to work hand in hand to get the word out
— Umar Jamal

Umar installed a rain garden in his front yard and encouraged his next door neighbor to join him. Together, their 300 square foot project is home to five rain barrels, six trees, and 70 native plants and shrubs. When other Arundel on the Bay residents walk by, Umar enjoys explaining the features of the garden and how they help remediate storm water runoff. “We have to work hand in hand to get the word out,” he says.

Installing a rain garden was just the beginning of Umar’s action for clean water. Umar’s driving force is looking to the future. He is working with the Islamic Society of Annapolis to install a large conservation project, fulfilling his goal of helping the earth and leaving it a better place for children and future generations. “We all come from water. This is our world and we need to protect it.”

The RiverWise Congregations program provides technical, faith-based assistance to help Houses of Worship care for God’s creation.  Since 2014,  WSA has trained Master Watershed Stewards from 23 Houses of Worship, and together with our partners the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake,  have installed 77 projects that are treating polluted runoff. This year, 69 members from some of the RiverWise Congregations attended a shortened version of the Master Watershed Steward training to become Congregational Stewards. 

These new Congregational Stewards installed 62 rain barrels and cisterns, 42 trees, and 26 conservation landscapes on 30 residences from Brooklyn Park to Davidsonville. 


Staff Retreat

Yesterday, WSA held our annual staff retreat in Baltimore. We started our day with a staff meeting at Biohabitats (thank you for letting us use your beautiful conference room!) where we discussed our strategic goals as an organization. Afterwards, Jennifer gave us a tour of the Biohabitats office, a refurbished stable in the Woodberry neighborhood of Baltimore. Their living wall is incredible! Maybe one day the WSA office will have one…

We stopped for lunch at the Handlebar Café in Little Italy (we highly recommend the pollo a la plancha sandwich, pastor burrito, and spud pizza!) then walked to the Inner Harbor for an Eco Tour.

Our tour, hosted by the Leanna and Eileen of the Waterfront Partnership, started at the Floating Wetlands just outside the World Trade Center. The 2,000 square feet of islands are planted with native species and rest on the surface of the Inner Harbor. The base of the wetlands is made from upcycled plastic bottles found in the harbor. The wetlands are home to crabs, eels, fish and waterfowl and help to clean the polluted water in the harbor.

As we walked east, Leanna and Eileen pointed out the oyster gardens growing along the inner perimeter of the harbor. These gardens contain multiple oyster cages, each holding hundreds of oysters. Once the oysters have matured, they are taken by boat to an oyster sanctuary in the Chesapeake Bay, where they live out their lives filtering up to 50 gallons of water a day!

Our next stop brought us to Pierce’s Park, a free public park in the Inner Harbor. The park is home to two raingardens filled with native plants, a bio-retention rain garden, and local works of art such as sculptures and a musical fence. With two landscape architects and an engineer on our staff, WSA enjoyed exploring the features and layout of the park.

Continuing east, our last stop of the day was across the Jones Falls River from Pier Six. Floating at the end of the pier is a jewel of technology and innovation: Mr. Trash Wheel. This water wheel combines the power of water and sunlight to lift trash and debris from the water, cleaning the water from the Jones Falls before it enters the Inner Harbor.

Thank you Biohabitats, Handlebar Café, and the Waterfront Partnership! Because of you, our staff enjoyed a productive retreat filled with great ideas, fun conversation, delicious food and lots of laughs.

South County Stewards Take Action

In July, WSA Staff members Suzanne, Brad, Tara and Katie visited Stewards Mary Uyeda, MaryBeth Austin and Paul Rickett. Mary, MaryBeth and Paul are great examples of engaging communities and coordinating action in their South County neighborhoods.

When Mary Uyeda became a Master Watershed Steward in 2012, she wanted to engage her Columbia Beach community to reduce pollution and prevent flooding.  Columbia Beach is now home to seven bioswales, four rain gardens and over a dozen rain barrels. Mary continues to return to WSA for training support and encouragement. 

“I love this work, I love the people. I love getting things done!”
— Mary Uyeda

MaryBeth Austin has installed hundreds of plants in dozens of projects at the Captain Avery Museum, Christ Episcopal Church and several other locations. In 2016 alone, MaryBeth accumulated over 300 volunteer hours from participating in outreach events, continuing education opportunities, and maintaining public gardens. Through her work in South County, MaryBeth has engaged local community members of all ages and Stewards from across the county. 

Our newest South County Steward Paul Rickett has long been a leader for community level projects.  In addition to maintaining his community rain garden and educating his own Churchton community, Paul is also facilitating networking among South County Stewards. Since becoming a Steward in 2016, Paul has spent over 100 hours removing invasive species, restoring living shorelines, and preparing backyard buffers.