Started in 2012, the Thurston Youth WIN! Program rewards youth groups based in unincorporated Thurston County that complete approved, service-based projects. After a 3-year hiatus due to COVID-19, the program is up and running for 2024, with awards for five projects dealing with stormwater pond maintenance and rehabilitation activities to be completed by November 2024. Thurston County Storm and Surface Water Utility funds the program.

“This year, our WIN! Program aims to address stormwater infrastructure maintenance needs, particularly focusing on privately owned facilities where HOAs may have dissolved or struggle to fulfill maintenance responsibilities due to economic factors, for instance, where they are doing their best but their system is exceptionally large,” shares Jim Leamy, stormwater inspector – residential for Thurston County Public Works.

2024 Thurston County Youth Projects Focus on Stormwater Ponds

In past years, the program included other service projects, including education and outreach events, marking storm drains and riparian restoration in critical habitats, shares Cynthia Taylor, education and outreach specialist II and Stream Team Coordinator with Thurston County Community Planning & Economic Development. Groups could also suggest their own projects with any focus. For 2024, they want to focus on cleaning up stormwater ponds, that directly affect many residents’ drinking water.

“The goal is to bring stormwater ponds back into compliance, maximize ecological functions and aesthetic appeal, and to minimize the risk of flooding, erosion, and reduce polluted sediments entering our waterways,” Taylor explains

“Through volunteer efforts, we seek to restore and maintain stormwater ponds, minimizing the risk of flooding, erosion, and pollution while maximizing ecological functions and aesthetic appeal,” adds Leamy. “The neighborhoods would then take on the maintenance going forward after we helped them ‘hit the reset button.’”

Why focus on stormwater ponds? Stormwater ponds help filter out pollutants before the water reaches our drinking wells and keep other areas from flooding during heavy rains. These projects are important for many reasons, affecting the health and safety of all who reside in Thurston County, not just residents, but plants and animals as well. “Stormwater ponds act as a bridge between manmade areas and wild areas. Native plants and animals often find homes here when their habitat is developed for humans,” adds Taylor.

Neighborhoods use stormwater ponds to add to the aesthetic and usability of an area as well. “Storm ponds act as neighborhood centerpieces: sometimes a dry pond doubles as a soccer field, often a wet pond has a bench adjacent where we can watch herons land and dragonflies dance,” says Taylor.

Getting youth involved helps encourage civic mindfulness and teaches them about water systems and the importance of watershed maintenance and protection.

In addition to the award money, Thurston County staff and/or representatives will participate in the group project, providing storm education, including elements of community science related to watershed health, explains Taylor. “Youth groups will learn what they can do at home and in their career pathway to protect water resources,” she adds. They will also instruct them on safety, proper use of County equipment and debris handling.

a large group of high school kids pose for a photo outside
Apply for the Thurston Youth WIN! program now and be rewarded for your community service work. Photo courtesy: Cynthia Taylor

Thurston Youth WIN! Eligibility

Groups must be based in unincorporated Thurston County, or have the majority of their members living in unincorporated Thurston County to be eligible for a Thurston Youth WIN! award. If you are not sure whether your group qualifies, email stormwaterutility@co.thurston.wa.

The chosen groups will earn $600 for 40 service hours working on their project. Thurston County will review applications in the order they receive them, so the sooner you submit yours, the better. They will also look at the number of participants and their age level. The County will inform a group of their decision within 30 days of receiving the group’s application. Projects must be completed by November 3, 2024, unless the County grants an extension.

Each group must have at least one adult who oversees the project as a safety representative. They are responsible for waivers and must be on-site for the entire duration of the project. One adult from the youth group must also have a Red Cross or Industrial First Aid Certification.

For full terms and conditions and to apply, download the Thurston Youth WIN! application.

“A stormwater facility, like a river, changes over time the more storms it sees,” says Taylor. “If we are there to act as stewards, and if we can pass the torch to tomorrow’s landowners and land managers, then this connected system will keep protecting all the things we hold dear.”

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