Matt Reynolds had what most would call a successful career at the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton. He was active on campus and participated in student government. His proudest accomplishment? A year-long effort to start a comprehensive recycling program for the campus with a grant from the state.
But, Reynolds recently found out, the program never got off the ground.
Reynolds, now 31, graduated in May 2005. A couple of weeks ago, he decided to pay a visit to his alma mater, where he met up with his former history professor, Traye McCool, who helped him develop the recycling program.
The first thing McCool said to Reynolds: “I've been dreading this conversation.”
When Reynolds started his career at UACCM, he could only find recycling bins in two of the 14 buildings on campus: one tucked away in the corner of the library, the other in a break room. He decided a school with more than 1,800 students needed to do more.
So Reynolds started doing some research, networking, making speeches and getting petitions signed. He joined the student government association and convinced student representatives to allocate money for a recycling program. The dollar amount, however, wasn't enough to cover all the costs. Reynolds received no help from the school's chancellor, Nathan Crook, in acquiring additional funds.
“The chancellor was really resistant to it and he saw me as this nagging squeaky wheel,” Reynolds says. “I was really devoted to the school and wanted to help it move forward and progress, so it just blew me away that the administration saw recycling as unnecessary.”
Reynolds realized he would have to find the money himself or the program was as good as dead. He learned there were state funds available for recycling projects through the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and teamed up with an organization now known as Green Source Recycling in Clarksville to apply for a grant.
Green Source is part of the West River Valley Regional Solid Waste Management District, which oversees waste and recycling efforts in nine counties. There are 18 solid waste management districts in the state and ADEQ provides $3 million in recycling grants per year. Angela Allen, Green Source district educator, said grant funds for each district are allocated “based on need.”
Reynolds calculated the costs, figured out what equipment was needed, talked it over with the school's maintenance crew and applied for the grant. The recycling program required the school to match the grant money and supply one work-study position to collect the recycled material. The September after he graduated, he found out a grant of $3,500 would be awarded.
Reynolds received assurances from McCool and others that the program would finally be put into place. But something went wrong.
According to McCool and other UACCM officials, despite repeated efforts to obtain the funds from Green Source, the money never came through. “Over and over again we were told that the money was going to be there at the end of the month. After six months we were at a point where the end of the month had to be now, but that never happened,” McCool says.
Holding the matching funds aside while waiting for the grant created problems for the community college with a limited budget. After more than a year of waiting, McCool sent a letter to Green Source saying the school could no longer proceed with the agreement.
Bryan Ukena, a former Green Source employee who helped Reynolds apply for the grant, says UACCM officials did not believe they could meet all of the requirements set forth in the grant. With Reynolds gone, there was no one left to fight for the program.
“That happens a lot,” Ukena says. “A student gets excited about it and there are these grant funds to get something going but the actual follow-through is so difficult, especially with the hierarchical administration that exists at universities. There are always certain procedures to follow.”
Allen, who now oversees grant applications for Green Source, agrees.
“At a college, people come and people go and you have to have an administration on board that's willing to continue on, or it won't work,” she says.
ADEQ spokesman Aaron Sadler says Green Source submitted a “change order” in 2006 that would re-direct the funds from the UACCM grant to recycling education programs elsewhere in the district.
When McCool broke the news to Reynolds two weeks ago, he was devastated.
“I felt defeated. It was horrible,” he says. “I went from feeling ecstatic and happy and thinking that one person could really make a difference to thinking that the powers that be can really just pull the rug out from under you.”
McCool says the bureaucratic waters that have to be navigated can drown efforts to get such programs going.
“Sometimes I feel like I let Joseph down and I keep thinking of lessons to remember next time,” he says. “But there were so many different groups involved — the student government, Green Source, the city, the administration — there's a possibility someone just didn't fill out the right piece of paper. The process needs to be simpler, that's the lesson.”
Chancellor Crook says the school still maintains the paper and aluminum recycling programs and additional materials will be recycled in the future. Reynolds is now a graduate student at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, where white paper, mixed paper, corrugated cardboard, aluminum cans, and plastic bottles can all be recycled.