Engaging & Activating Communities During a Pandemic: A Salute to our Partners at Missouri River Relief

Christen Commuso

By Christen Commuso

We are all learning to make changes due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and our partners at Missouri River Relief (MRR) are no exception. We want to highlight some of the great work they do and detail how they have been adapting their programs to ensure all staff, students and volunteers stay safe and healthy.

“Our staff is amazing! Can I just say that? Our staff, volunteers and partners didn’t miss a paddle stroke when 2020 started throwing obstacles our way,” says MRR Director Steve Schnarr in a message on their website. 

Here at the Missouri Coalition for the Environment (MCE), we couldn’t agree more. 

Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, MRR had to pause their in-person field trips. But thankfully, with the help of MCE’s own River Advocate Jim Karpowicz, cinematographer Tom Newcomb, and AmeriCorps river guide Laura Waldo-Semken, they were able to create a virtual river tour and companion guide for teachers. Geared towards fourth-graders and beyond, Exploring the Big Muddy: A Virtual Field Trip takes students on a fun, educational journey through the Missouri River’s rich history and showcases its important role in sustaining human and wildlife populations. The virtual field trip is a creative alternative that can be utilized anytime students cannot access the river in-person. 

In addition to the virtual field trip, MRR also created a Virtual Summer Camp called “Watershed Expeditions at Home.” Using a combination of Camp in a Box and weekly Zoom chats, campers were able to experience hands-on activities and create new friendships from the safety of their own homes.

It is through these educational programs that MRR hopes to inspire students to care about and become stewards of the Missouri River. A sense of stewardship is what motivates hundreds of volunteers to participate in MRR’s river cleanups every year. As you can imagine, they weren’t going to let the pandemic thwart their efforts to continue. To keep everyone safe and socially distanced, they are reducing the number of volunteers and spending more days out on the river during each campaign. They also encourage individual “Trash Mobs” where volunteers can clean up their local streams or neighborhoods. Despite the new Covid policies, teams still managed to remove 31 tons of trash and inspired 105 trash mobs in 2020. 

Says Laura Waldo-Semken at the close of the virtual field trip, “it’s important to consider our actions because our actions have reactions that ripple like a stone tossed into the river.”