Q&A with Sheri Henshaw, Executive Director of Keep Bartow Beautiful
We spoke with Sheri about her love for the environment, persisting in the face of challenge, and the importance of shining a light on the history of a community.
You’ve been involved with Bartow County for nearly 20 years now, since Keep Bartow Beautiful first started. What made you choose this line of work?
I went to the University of Georgia, and graduated with a major in horticulture and a minor in journalism. At the time when I applied, I’d done a lot of teaching, a lot of volunteer work, and written for newspapers, and a lot of my job skills fell into that. I had a background in science and education, and the environment…it was a good fit. One of my favorite experiences at UGA was being assigned to interview Dr. Eugene Odum, the father of modern ecology, for UGA’s campus newspaper, The Red and Black. Ever since I was in college, I have been inspired by my heroes like Dr. Odum to care about environmental issues. I’ve been that “earth mother hippie chick” since day one!
Tell us more about the work that Keep Bartow Beautiful is doing this year.
We have a lot of fingers in a lot of pies. Our biggest annual project is our school recycling contest. We currently have 25 schools in two school systems, plus a private school, that recycle with us in the contest, which runs from August 1 through March 31. Awards are announced around Earth Day in late April. Last year, we collected over 550,000 pounds [of recyclable materials].
We’re the sustainability office for the county as well. All Bartow County staff recycle at work—there’s a mixed paper bin by every desk in every department, and bins where needed for bottles and cans in break rooms and near concession areas and vending machines. We also have recycling at our ball parks, campgrounds, and boat launches. We do a lot of education and programming through our 12 collection and recycling centers. For example, Keep Bartow Beautiful did a Tarp Your Truck program a few years ago, and we do Christmas tree recycling each year with those sites. Keep Bartow Beautiful helped the Corps of Engineers get a campground recycling program started at Lake Allatoona as well, and provides event recycling for people who request it.
The last few years, Keep Bartow Beautiful has also been garden-heavy, project-wise. In addition to projects with Cartersville Downtown Development/Main Street, Magnolia Garden Club, Bartow Master Gardeners, and the schools, we recently planted two storm water demonstration gardens at Bartow County’s public launch sites on the Etowah River, one with Citizens of Georgia Power and the other with Anheuser-Busch Cartersville. Bartow County developed these launch sites to be user-friendly, safe, and clean, and we have staged river cleanups there with partners for the past several years. With Georgia Power, we were able to work with Keep Rome-Floyd Beautiful for Renew Our Rivers, and celebrate World Environment Day with Anheuser Busch Cartersville and the National River Network. Coosa River Basin Initiative and the Coosa River Keeper also teamed with us.
What would you define as some of the most rewarding moments of your career thus far?
The most rewarding moment of my career was being chosen as the Keep Georgia Beautiful Foundation’s executive director of the year in 2017. My family was able to attend the ceremony, and seeing how many people said such nice things in the nomination application made me feel truly appreciated. Creating long-lasting and mutually beneficial partnerships is what has made me successful and sustained Keep Bartow Beautiful for almost two decades.
I also want to praise Missy Phillips, our programs coordinator. She handles as much of the day to day load as I do, but in half the time! She wrote my nomination, and it was very meaningful to me for all the contributions she got from others, and as a record of our work with Keep Bartow Beautiful.
What does your affiliate look forward to in the future? What further impact do you hope to see in Bartow County?
For the future in Bartow County, I hope we continue to see how our projects impact the community. We do a lot of cleanup efforts within the smaller towns. Some want to expand their efforts and add an additional cleanup in the fall—that’s always a positive. I like seeing the Etowah River being utilized, and that we’re able to add to the community’s enjoyment of such a great natural resource. We’re involved in the Great Allatoona Cleanup too, which is a plus. Protecting water resources is definitely in our future.
The most important project with potential future impact is our Bartow African-American Heritage Trail. It’s turned into a great project and we’ve accomplished a lot so far with multiple partners and communities. For example, George Washington Carver Park in South Bartow—we’re cleaning it up, making needed repairs and improvements, and recognizing its history (the first Georgia State Park for African-Americans created during segregation). We set up an annual Memories Day, had folks come out and revisit the site, and documented historic artifacts brought in and took oral histories. We pulled in partners like Cartersville Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, Bartow History Museum, Etowah Valley Historical Society. That success led to the creation of a tourism trail of 19 different historic sites, with Carver being the first. This is really what we hope to do with any project—we ask ourselves, are we helping improve the community’s quality of life and shining a light where it’s needed?
Any advice for people looking to make their communities cleaner, greener, or more beautiful?
The only advice I can offer is to never give up, be persistent. People know that I will come back again and again if I think that the mission needs to take place. One of my favorite people, Ray Southern at Cartersville Public Works, who helped establish this program early on, would always joke about me coming in on a Friday afternoon with a request when he just wanted to go fishing. It was easier for him to say, “Okay Sheri, I’ll just take care of it Monday morning.” He knew I was that persistent, and we always had great relationships with people because they knew that things would get done and we’d work together to solve problems. It’s good to have someone that people can pretty much count on, like the people I am privileged to work with and for. It’s even better to be that kind of person in return.