CECorps Celebrates Its Fifth Anniversary With “What’s in My Backyard?” Campaign

In celebration of its fifth anniversary, the Community Engineering Corps (CECorps) and its alliance partners, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), and the American Water Works Association (AWWA) launched  “What’s in My Backyard?” (WIMBY). The campaign connects underserved communities in the United States with volunteer engineers to address local infrastructure problems, one of the great challenges of our time. 

 “Infrastructure is an issue that touches almost everything. It’s what keeps your daily life running smoothly,” says Clare, “but is often taken for granted and America’s infrastructure is in dire need of repair.”

Across the United States, years of neglect have resulted in crumbling roads, bridges in need of repair, inadequate public transport, outdated school buildings, and other critical infrastructure needs.

In its most recent report card on the condition of America’s infrastructure, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave U.S. infrastructure a D+ or “poor” rating. The engineers estimated the cost of bringing America’s infrastructure to a state of good repair (a grade of B) by 2025 at $4.6 trillion.

Every community deserves reliable infrastructure—it’s key to the quality of people’s lives. Unfortunately, many low-income communities miss out on vital infrastructure projects. 

That’s where CECorps comes in.  Our recently launched WIMBY campaign connects interested volunteers from member organizations with underserved communities. “That’s the beauty of the WIMBY initiative,” says Clare, “we unite people with a common desire to make a difference, improve infrastructure, and hopefully set a ripple effect into motion.” 

WIMBY: Connecting Communities With Engineering Services 

CECorps is unique in advancing local infrastructure solutions by providing pro-bono engineering services in partnership with the communities that need it most.

Grover Hill, Ohio: Providing the technical expertise to secure $2 million in funding to address severe wastewater issues 

Grover Hill is a little community of approximately 400 people in northwest Ohio with a big wastewater problem. 

The town’s collection system is rundown and overflows during storms resulting in sewer backups. Homes in Grover Hill all have their own septic tanks, which are badly corroded, and the town’s wastewater treatment plant has experienced multiple equipment failures. Reluctant to raise sewer rates since  many residents are on fixed incomes, the town faces many financial hardships. 

“We were in deep trouble,” says John Moon, Grover Hill’s Mayor, “we sought some advice, and CECorps helped out. They made themselves welcome.”

CECorps engineers donated hundreds of hours to the project, producing a comprehensive 348-page report outlining technical issues and providing recommendations. Equipped with a blueprint for action, the community was able to apply for funding to correct its wastewater problems. 

“When they were finished with their studies. It was a great thing,” says Mayor Moon. Based on the report, a grant application was developed, resulting in over $2 million in funding for a new system. 

The townspeople are excited about it.

“CECorps came in and they volunteered their time, did research for us and it was all done at a cost of zero dollars…without them we wouldn’t be able to do this as all,” says Mayor Moon, “My hat goes off to them for the work they do.” 

New Orleans, Louisiana: Transforming a golf course into the city’s biggest urban farm with an eco-campus

New Orleans youth are deeply impacted by food insecurity and insufficient access to high-quality housing, health care, and safe spaces. The City of New Orleans reported that 23% of New Orleans residents, many of them youth and young adults, are food insecure.

Johanna Gilligan, founding director of Grow Dat Youth Farm set out to address this challenge by transforming a former golf course into a rich field for agriculture in New Orlean’s City Park, growing both healthy food and strong leaders. 

Because the potential site was formerly a golf course, CECorps was called in to ensure that there were no heavy metals or pollutants in the soil through soil testing and analysis. 

“Without that help, we wouldn’t have felt comfortable proceeding with the project,” says Leo Gorman, farm manager.  

CECorps gathered the data needed to move forward with the farm safely and responsibly. Volunteers also provided a structural analysis for the unique use of shipping containers for Grow Dat offices and community space.  Grow Dat is now the largest urban farm in New Orleans, harvesting an impressive 20,000 pounds of food each year including 50 varieties of fruits and vegetables including avocados, satsuma, beets, and kale. Seventy percent of their crops are sold at market and the remaining 30% is donated to neighborhoods lacking access to healthy, fresh food. 

“CECorps played a major role in helping us develop our site. We collaborated on thinking about the best ways to design and build the site. The Eco-Campus is a product of that.” Leo Gorman, farm manager at Grow Dat.

Grow Dat Community Garden

Building People Up, One Community at a Time

Clare sums up CECorps and the WIMBY campaign best, “Our projects may involve pipes, water, concrete, roads, but at the end of the day, they are about people—bringing people together to serve each other and creating a greater good. The roads, paths, and bridges we design not only build community, but they also build communities up.”

If you are a community in need of service or a volunteer with the technical expertise you’d like to share, join us.

About the Author
Engineers Without Borders USA builds a better world through engineering projects that empower communities to meet their basic human needs and equip leaders to solve the world’s most pressing challenges.