Working to Make a Difference

Ten years ago when Eric Fuchs-Stengel was a student at Mahwah High School, he and a group of friends had an idea about cleaning up trash in the Ramapo Valley County Reservation where they enjoyed hiking. From that project, the seeds of the Mahwah Environmental Volunteers Organization were planted, and today, with the help of thousands of volunteers, MEVO has made a sizable impact on the local environment. According to Eric, MEVO’s executive director and founder, volunteer projects have included trash collection, including clearing more than 500,000 pounds of waste (and 6,000 tires) from locations such as Stag Hill in Mahwah. And with the help of their volunteers, in 2015 MEVO built Fresh Roots Farm, a 2-acre community-based educational farm located within the forests of Campgaw Mountain Reservation where they grow fruits and vegetables as well as maintain beehives and offer educational programs on sustainability and local food production. We recently talked to Eric, 27, about MEVO and its impact on the community.

How did your high school club become what MEVO is today? 

It’s largely thanks to the work of thousands and thousands of volunteers of all ages, from high school kids to college students to adults to corporate groups from northern New Jersey who all want to get out there and make a difference in their community. When people are offered an opportunity to take action, they step up. We have more than 5,000 volunteers every year who come and help us with our volunteer projects.

You have a lot of young volunteers. Why is that?

Young people are passionate about the environment because they know this is their future. They will be inheriting the problems that are happening now. Another interesting aspect is that with kids so connected to their mobile devices, this gives them a chance to disconnect and find something more tangible. Nature is a way to be outside, work with your hands and escape from all of that. We also have great internship programs for high school and college students and have had about 230 young people come through that program who are now becoming change-makers in the environmental field. We’re very proud of that.

How has the experience impacted you personally?

For the past 10 years, this has been my life, my career, my everything. The real reward for me building this organization from the ground up is the impact it has had on peoples’ lives, not only in helping change the environment but helping themselves, empowering someone to be happier in their own skin. This organization started with a few friends saying, ‘Let’s go clean up some trash today.’ We had no idea how that small action would affect so many. It’s been tremendous.

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