This month we place the spotlight on Christine Chute Canul, senior program director with Keep Texas Beautiful.
How and when did the Keep Texas Beautiful organization start?
The organization’s history dates back to 1967 when the state of Texas was preparing for the world’s fair and more than 16 million tourists were expected to visit the state. A variety of representatives from diverse entities, including the State Department of Highways and Public Transportation, decided that Texas cities and highways should be given a “facelift” so visitors would see a clean, beautiful state. To accomplish this beautification goal the group created a non-profit educational corporation, supported totally by membership dues, known as the Beautify Texas Council.
The Beautify Texas Council eventually increased focus on highway beautification, environmental education, public awareness, procurement, distribution of funding and support to local volunteers, and officially became Keep Texas Beautiful and a state affiliate of Keep America Beautiful (KAB) in 1985. Today more than 370 Texas communities are Keep Texas Beautiful (KTB) Affiliates. KTB affiliate communities range in population from 37 in Quintana to over two million in Houston.
What is KTB’s mission and programmatic focus areas?
KTB’s mission is to educate and engage Texans to take responsibility for improving their community environment. We focus our efforts in three major areas: litter prevention, beautification and waste reduction. Our vision is to make Texas the cleanest, most beautiful state in the nation. We do this largely through our extensive affiliate network.
When did you begin working for KTB and what initially excited you about the organization?
I started with KTB in 2008. Texas is a very diverse state with a lot of rural areas and also some of the largest cities in the country. Many Texans are very committed to improving their communities and I found the opportunity to travel the state and train and help grow current and newly forming KTB Affiliates, very exciting.
What is your role within KTB?
As the Senior Program Director, I manage several of our statewide programs including the Great American Cleanup and the Don’t Mess with Texas Youth Art Contest. I also manage our affiliate training program and new program initiatives. KTB affiliates are split amongst myself and Program Director, Angela Castilleja by region and we serve as the main liaison to these communities for all things KTB.
How do you recruit and support local affiliates?
We typically recruit new affiliates through free regional trainings, meet and greet breakfasts with existing affiliates and invited organizations, and word of mouth. About half of our affiliates are part of a program run by a municipality and the other half are non-profit organizations often acting as an umbrella for a few smaller groups or informal volunteer committees with different focuses. We normally spend about six months mentoring an organization and then it takes another nine months for a group to actually become an affiliate. Becoming an affiliate is an 8-step process and we work hard to make sure all new affiliates will be sustainable and have a strong foundation.
We support KTB affiliates with free materials to facilitate community cleanups, boiler-plate marketing material for cleanups and other events, regional trainings and webinars on public education, and organizational capacity building (i.e. how to write a grant, manage a board) along with a host of affiliate peer-to-peer networking opportunities.
What program areas interest affiliates most? Do interests vary by region?
Affiliates are most interested in grant funding, training and peer-to-peer networking opportunities. The top three program areas of interest are litter prevention, recycling and recycling education, and community development (how to make your community a place where you want to live, work and play). Because Texas is such a large state, we do see interests vary by region. For example, we find more urban areas in the state are talking to us about how to improve recycling programs or increase recycling rates while more rural areas are often inquiring about how to set up recycling programs.
How is KTB funded and what type of metrics do you track to show KTB’s impact?
We are a non-profit organization supported through a litter prevention and public education contract with the Texas Department of Transportation and the sponsorship of local and national businesses working in Texas. We track metrics for a broad range of activities including miles of roads cleaned, number of volunteers and volunteer hours applied to projects, number of community gardens created, illegal dump sites cleaned, pounds of waste collected and recycled, and the list goes on.
A representative of Sims Recycling Solutions on KTB’s Board of Directors recently participated as a judge for the Governor’s Community Achievement Awards program. Tell us about that program.
For more than two decades KTB, in partnership with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), has annually awarded the prestigious Governor’s Community Achievement Awards (GCAA) to 10 Texas communities with the best grassroots environmental programs in the state. The competition distributes $2 million in funding from TxDOT across the 10 communities, with the amount based on population size. The funds are used for landscaping projects along local rights-of-way. The applications are judged by about 35 judges with backgrounds in government, business and non-profits. Judging is a wonderful way to learn more about the great work Texas communities are doing on behalf of the environment.
You’re a life-long Texan but lived in New York City (NYC) after college. How does “don’t mess with Texas” pride stack up against NYC attitude?
Surprisingly, New Yorkers and Texans are not very different. They both have a lot of personality, great pride in where they come from, and see themselves as unique. Both have these great “can-do” attitudes where they take action instead of sitting back and waiting for someone else to make change happen.
What new initiatives are in the works for KTB?
We’re developing a “Love Where You Live” marketing campaign for our affiliates to educate their communities that their recycling, beautification and anti-litter programs not only contribute to local environmental quality but also to local economic development, job creation and tourism.
When not making Texas beautiful, what do you like to do?
I live on a 3-acre property with four kids, a handful of chickens, and a garden that all take up a lot of my time. I like to cook and be outdoors and we like hiking and camping as a family when we can.