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Fledgling Bremerton non-profit hopes rain gardens will nourish those in recovery

The City of Bremerton planted rain gardens along Pacific Avenue this week to mitigate storm water pollution. A new non-profit group, Soulworkz, hopes to employ people in drug and alcohol recovery to build these throughout the county. - Lynsi Burton/staff photo
The City of Bremerton planted rain gardens along Pacific Avenue this week to mitigate storm water pollution. A new non-profit group, Soulworkz, hopes to employ people in drug and alcohol recovery to build these throughout the county.
— image credit: Lynsi Burton/staff photo

If you ask Paula Stentz, there is a wealth of untapped talent in Kitsap County - it’s the people who are homeless or recovering from drug and alcohol addictions, waiting for a second chance and the opportunity to learn new skills.

“There are so many brilliant people out there who have really fallen through the cracks,” she said.

It is these people she wants to reach through her new non-profit, Soulworkz. Conceived by Executive Director Stentz about 10 months ago. The mission of Soulworkz is to help those in recovery as well as the environment by employing people to build rain gardens, a low-impact development feature that’s cropping up in Bremerton.

As someone who knows what it’s like to feel lost and in need of a new purpose in life, Stentz said that Soulworkz will give people in “life transitions” what they really need by teaching them useful job skills, which is more beneficial than charity.

“It’s a hand up, not a hand out,” she said. “Why not mentor people in life transitions to do something for the environment?”

Soulworkz is still raising money and gathering the workforce necessary to start building rain gardens throughout the county, but it aims to get a boost from the fundraiser it will host on Saturday. Taking place at the Norm Dicks Government Center, the Spring Gala will feature local art to be sold in a silent auction and live music and dancing. The rain garden that will be auctioned off will be Soulworkz’s first project.

Rain gardens are beds of vegetation that trap and filter rain water that would otherwise flow into stormwater drains untreated. They’re being built by both neighborhood groups and the City of Bremerton to help reduce polluted surface runoff.

As a lifelong Puget Sound area resident, cleaning up the Sound is a mission close to Stentz’s heart.

“It’s a jewel and we’re abusing it,” Stenz said, overlooking the Port Washington Narrows from her Bremerton apartment. “It just seems like the right thing to do.”

Soulworkz seeks to cull workers from recovery groups and pay them $10 to $11 per hour to build rain gardens for homeowners.

Janette Winn, Stentz’s partner at Soulworkz, said that in addition to employing those who need a job and helping the environment, rain gardens would beautify the city and increase property values, all benefits of helping bridge the gap between getting people clean and getting them back to work.

“If we can’t support these people when they make that life change, there’s no reason to make that life change,” she said.

Soulworkz isn’t the first group to try to independently construct new neighborhood rain gardens. The Union Hill Neighborhood Association, representing the area between Charleston and downtown, built rain gardens near 10th Street and Veneta Avenue in October.

Local governments are also joining the rain garden trend. The Kitsap Conservation District is offering to share the cost of the construction of new rain gardens in unincorporated Kitsap County and the City of Bremerton is planting them along Pacific Avenue this week.

City Councilman Roy Runyon said Bremerton is incorporating low-impact development methods, including rain gardens and pervious pavement, into its revitalization and new development projects, and already offers incentives for private developers to use such techniques.

He said groups such as Soulworkz could serve as inspiration and spur similar practices elsewhere.

“I think it’s a model that can be duplicated across the country,” he said.

Jeff Adams, a marine water quality specialist who advised on the Union Hill project and volunteered to work with Soulworkz employees, said it is too early to tell how popular rain gardens will become.

“I think the jury’s still out on how widely they’re going to be implemented,” said Adams, who works for Washington Sea Grants. “This is basically the first year we’ve been approaching this.”

He predicts that as more people see them in coming years, they will become more popular.

That’s why Stentz thinks this is the movement that can get the at-risk population on its feet.

“I really believe that everybody deserves a second chance,” she said.

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