David Lauthers2We love our RiverRat volunteers! They act as the James River’s first line of citizen defense by assisting our Riverkeepers as the eyes and ears of the river and its tributaries. RiverRats come from all over the watershed, are all ages and have many different backgrounds. You don’t need to be a scientist or skilled paddler to become a RiverRat.

Meet David Lauthers, a Logistics Planner at Newport News Shipbuilding. He’s a Lower James RiverRat that teaches the principles of Leave No Trace and is also active with the Virginia Master Naturalists and the Boy Scouts. He also serves on the Board of the Newport News Green Foundation. David has volunteered for the James River Association in a number of ways, here is what he had to say about a few of his experiences:

In 2015 I volunteered at Berkley Middle School teaching Watershed Education. We talked about what watersheds – what they are, how to identify what watershed you live in and how they work. We also had a touch tank with river eels that the students could touch and we played a time lapse video showing oysters filtering a tank of dirty water. I also briefly talked about Leave No Trace and outdoor ethics. This was by far one of my favorite volunteer experiences. Being able to share my knowledge of watersheds and giving children the chance to see and touch an American Eel was a memory I enjoy having and I look forward to doing it again. I encourage anyone with time and energy to share your experiences and knowledge at a school or educational event like Earth Day.

Recently, at the request of the James River Association’s Volunteer Coordinator, I was asked to attend an Environmental Justice Empowerment Luncheon in the Southeast Community of Newport News. I had never heard of the term “environmental justice,” which I learned is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.

Although I have lived in Newport News for 20 years, I had never ventured to the Southeast area of the city, even though it is near where I work. I arrived early to the event and attended a briefing by Congressman Bobby Scott and Delegate Marcia Price. I was among the company of many other state and local organizations such as the Virginia Conservation Network, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Choose Clean Water Coalition, Southeast Asthma Network, Virginia Student Environmental Coalition, VA Sierra Club and the Southeast Care Coalition. Each group was given a chance to speak, reviewing their missions, roles and what potential assistance they could bring to the table to help the Southeast Community.  The elected officials told the group that they are working to ensure our communities have the opportunity to live in a clean and safe environment free from polluted water.

Overall this was a very unique learning experience for me. It showed me the problems within a community in my city and also showed me what organizations are coming together to help put an end to the issues. The chance to network with all these organizations was definitely valuable.

Want to become a RiverRat and help make a difference in your community? Attend one of our upcoming training sessions listed below. Contact Ben Hawkins at bhawkins@jrava.org for more information.

July 23 – Buchanan/Covington
August 13 – Charlottesville
September 17 – Richmond