If you want to spread a message, start with kids. Lisa Sheltra learned this valuable lesson while teaching fire safety as a volunteer firefighter, and now applies it to community outreach efforts as assistant public works director for the Town of Williston, Vt.
During Public Works Week in May, Sheltra planned a presentation and show-and-tell event for Williston’s two elementary schools. Six heavy equipment operators brought vehicles onsite so the children could inspect—and in some cases climb aboard—a dump truck, grader, vacuum trailer, backhoe, excavator, and roadside mower.
In one day Sheltra, Public Works Director Bruce Hoar, and the vehicle operators reached more than 450 children in pre-K through 5th grade. In addition to a general overview, the team emphasized public works as a good career opportunity.
Sheltra’s presentation focused on stormwater management to coincide with students’ environmental studies, although she plans to develop other topics and involve older students in community projects in the future.
The event’s budget was minimal, including pencils, erasers, and plastic hardhats for some of the students. A friend of Sheltra’s designed posters and coloring pages. “Eventually we’d like donations from local businesses,” she says, “not only to garner more resources, but to raise awareness.” The more taxpayers understand what we do, the more likely they will support new initiatives.”
Sheltra was inspired to plan educational events as she completed a Public Works Manager training program through APWA’s Donald C. Stone Center. “The curriculum involved 12 different criteria, and I realized most people probably have no idea what a public works department actually does,” she says. Williston’s 18 full-time public works employees are responsible for roads, sewers, stormwater management, as well as an extensive parks and recreation program, including summer-long kids’ camps and skiing in winter.