I love giving away free stuff. In the last two weeks, I have, on behalf of Bluegrass PRIDE, helped 70 people take home free rain barrels and hosted a party with local music, food and wine for 600 of my closest friends. The best part was that everyone appreciated every bit of it.
For the last 10 years, PRIDE has sold rain barrels as a fundraiser. We have perfected the construction and can make one barrel about every seven minutes.
Initially, we looked at competing rain barrels to set our price (at that time, all other sales were through the Internet) and found that $130 each was a fair deal. Over the last few years selling rain barrels has become more competitive and we have dropped the prices to $75 each. Because the goal is to improve water quality, we embrace the competition and the abundance of sellers; in fact, I think that PRIDE can take some credit for rain barrels becoming “sexy” again.
The lowered price tag is still a bit too much for some people, so we started offering rain barrel making workshops for just the cost of supplies ($45). These have been wildly successful, and we usually do one in the spring, and one in the fall. Recently, PRIDE partnered with Kentucky American Water to host FREE rain barrel workshops in Owen and Scott counties, and it has been one of the most gratifying things I have done in a long time.
I am very familiar with Lexington and the 17 counties we serve. During the last decade, I have been working to help the citizens in those communities understand how their actions can affect our local environment, and I hope I have made some progress. This is why it was so interesting to do a workshop in Owen County (outside our region).
I was initially very concerned about how to reach out to people in a county where I had no personal or professional contacts and get them to come to a workshop that involved physical labor on an 80-plus degree evening. I worked with a couple of people in the county who were also concerned with turnout but agreed to help with promotion. However, after a mention in the local paper, we were overwhelmed with participants.
At the end of the workshop, 30 people made and went home with their very own rain barrel. The most gratifying part, other than the thoughts of improved water quality in Owen County, was the reaction of the participants. Many of the participants commented that no one had done this in their county before and that many of the leaders underestimated the participation and environmental concern of the residents in their small county. I was warmly thanked from each of the participants, and I really felt that they were grateful that Kentucky American Water chose them to host the workshop.
A week and a half before, I conducted another free rain barrel workshop in Georgetown, also sponsored by Kentucky American Water. This workshop filled up so fast, we added another afterward and made, in total, 40 barrels. Once again, the participants treated us like royalty for offering the workshop for free and for bringing everything to Georgetown, instead of hosting it at our office in Lexington.
This past Friday, PRIDE organized its ninth annual, and by far most successful, Rain Barrel Reception. Over 600 citizens from throughout the region came to see the 2012 artist-decorated barrels in person, taste wine from Chrisman Mill, and sample hors d’oeuvres from Good Foods Market and Café. One of the reasons for its unprecedented success was the addition of the local band, the Big Maracas, which enticed other gallery hoppers to not only come by but stay for the remainder of the evening. Once again, this event was free, and I am still hearing what a treat it was and how much everyone enjoyed the free entertainment (including the belly dancers that “crashed” the party).
Because I work for a nonprofit dedicated to education, free is preferable but often hard to sustain. PRIDE’s official mission is to “provide resources to empower the citizens of Central Kentucky to improve our local environment.” “Providing resources” implies free resources, but there is not a directive in the mission about how to fund those resources. This makes me even more grateful to our wonderful partners throughout the region who make hosting these free events possible.
I have been led to believe in the last few years that people place value on something based on its cost. For example, I have often been told to charge a nominal fee for workshops so that the participants feel that they are going to something worthwhile. I have also been told that if something is free, chances are many of the people who register will not show up. I have found that most of this is untrue, at least in our environmental world.
I am glad that what I have witnessed recently revolves around gratitude and appreciation and not entitlement and greed. I hope this can be said for the rest of the community, and not just with the sustainability crowd. In the mean time, I look forward to finding funding for as many free things as I can.
Amy Sohner is executive director of Bluegrass PRIDE and a graduate of the University of Kentucky in Natural Resource Conservation and Management. Sohner has worked with PRIDE since its inception in 2002 and is a Certified Environmental Educator. She is involved with the Kentucky Environmental Literacy Alliance, the Bluegrass Rain Garden Alliance, the Licking and Kentucky River Basin Teams, and serves as vice-chair of the Keep Lexington Beautiful Commission. Sohner lives near the Kentucky River palisades with her husband, 5-year-old daughter and a multitude of pets.