|Barrels of fun, with a message
It all started when Joe Van Deuren, owner of Balanced Life Skills in Annapolis, was a student in the Leadership Anne Arundel program. The program provides executives with civic and leadership skills, through a series of workshops and introductions to other area professionals.
While Mr. Van Deuren's class visited the Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Facility in Millersville, he said he was impressed by a presentation about rain barrels and water reclamation.
"When you see how valuable they (rain barrels) are and how they can be used, they were awesome," said Mr. Van Deuren.
Once he finished the program and returned to his martial arts school, Mr. Van Deuren realized he could take the rain barrel idea one step further by getting his students to paint them, auction them and donate the proceeds for environmental causes.
"We do a community service project at the school every month," he said. "I was amazed that the kids wanted to do it."
Not just a few kids either. On a beautiful Saturday morning earlier this month, 65 kids showed up to paint six barrels. Another four were painted by local artists.
"It's fun because I like painting and I like drawing," said 7-year-old Eric Walter of Annapolis. "I don't usually get to help people out."
The children also seemed to understand the idea of helping the environment.
"It is making the world a better place," said 8-year-old Oliver Holmes of Annapolis.
Oliver's mother, Julia Simmons of Annapolis, was one of two moms who helped Mr. Van Deuren orchestrate the rain barrel project.
"For me, I sing the praises of Joe," said Ms. Simmons. "He's able to pull together a community of people to help the environment."
Ms. Simmons also was one of the four local artists chosen to participate in the project. The others are Barbara Sause of Severna Park, Phyllis Saroff and Roz Carroll, both of Severna Park.
For Ms. Saroff, the rain barrels were a welcome break from her normal artistic routine.
"Well, it's not my usual media," Ms. Saroff said with a laugh. "It's very light-hearted and capricious I guess. My illustration work is usually very scientific, educational or editorial. Painting rain barrels was just fun and it's always nice to work on projects that have a good cause."
While the experience with Leadership Anne Arundel helped to initiate the rain barrel idea, it was Mr. Van Deuren's martial arts curriculum and particularly the ideas of awareness and self-defense that really brought the whole project together.
"Being aware of who we hang out with, in what we read and who we study for emotional and spiritual transformation is a part of our personal self-defense," Mr. Van Deuren said. "We also recognize that we are not alone on the planet and we need to be aware of the suffering of others and recognize that what we do and consume has an affect on others. Awareness is self-defense - the rain barrel project grew out of our program to learn what we can do to defend the environment."
The money from the rain barrel auction will go toward environmental causes. The money from the auction will be used to fund programs that will result from a partnership with his business and other groups, such as the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Arlington Echo Park, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and other "community groups that care for our rivers and the bay," Mr. Van Deuren said.
The rain barrels aren't a one-time gig for Mr. Van Deuren.
"This is going to be an annual event - we've already decided," he said. "We hope to have more barrels. I would love this to be like the crabs in Baltimore, like the donkeys in D.C. How cool would it be to have these rain barrels all over town."
Outside of that, there's another, perhaps more important goal.
"It brings about an awareness, which is the most we can hope for," Mr. Van Deuren said. "And then of course, for action, too."
That action will be much easier to take with a work of art under the gutter.
Until the auction, the artists' barrels are under wraps.
As for the kids' barrels - well, they're masterpieces. Real show-stoppers with butterflies, sailboats, birds, rainbows and as far some are concerned, better and certainly more earth-friendly than any old Van Gogh.
The barrel auction is open to the public tomorrow at 6 p.m. at the Sheraton Annapolis Hotel.
There will also be a presentation about how rain barrels can help the Chesapeake Bay. Speakers will include Anne Pearson, director of the Alliance for Sustainable Communities, and Stephen Barry, coordinator of the school system's Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center.
Donna L. Cole is a freelance writer living in Annapolis.
(Revised September 2007)