Tell us about yourself.
My name is Beth Roach, and I’m the Grants Manager for the James River Association, the only nonprofit solely dedicated to protecting the James River watershed from the headwaters to the Chesapeake Bay. My conservation career began back in 2004 with Virginia State Parks; over the course of 7 years, I served as volunteer, seasonal interpreter, conservation intern, park ranger, chief ranger, and environmental programs manager. After my park work, I gained skills in exhibit design, volunteer management, and most recently, nonprofit accounting and administration. I am an enrolled member of the Nottoway Indian Tribe of VA and serve on the Tribal Council. As a Councilwoman, I’m a storyteller and I manage environmental programs. Recently, I was elected Vice Chair of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Environmental Justice. I have a degree in History with a concentration in Public History from James Madison University.
What is the focus of your work?
I write and manage grants that support our core programs: Advocacy, Community Conservation, Education, Riverkeeper, and Watershed Restoration. The James River Association was founded in 1976 by a group of citizens who were gravely concerned about the health of the James River. Years leading up to ‘76, Kepone was being dumped in the river in Hopewell. This resulted in the James River being shut down to fishing for 13 years. In addition to the Kepone, poor stormwater management, sewage treatment, and farming practices also led to the degradation of the James River. Fast forward to 2018, the James River is regarded as one of the most resilient rivers in the nation. The 2017 State of the James report rated the health as a B-, which shows strong gains in fish and wildlife populations, habitat restoration, pollution reductions, and protection and restoration actions. While there is much to be celebrated, we know there is still much to do regarding sediment pollution, stormwater runoff, toxic floodwaters, and eroding shorelines. Our work addresses problems facing the James from the top down and the bottom up! We work with legislators, students, teachers, families, government officials, other nonprofits, and citizen volunteers.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
I was raised along the shores of the Lower James River and spent most of my childhood swimming in the brackish water downstream from Hopewell. The James River was still closed to fishing when I was born. That ban lasted throughout my childhood and undoubtedly influenced the direction of my life’s work. I’m proud to now be a part of an amazing team of dedicated stewards of the river. Over the course of 4 years, I have helped to raise over $3 million dollars of restricted funding to support our work. That equates to thousands of trees planted, over 20,000 students educated, millions of dollars in stormwater funding protected, and hundreds of volunteer projects implemented!
What are some major challenges you have faced and how you handled them?
As any fundraising professional knows, maintaining consistent funding is a challenge as the philanthropic landscape constantly changes. Staying on top of trends can be tricky. One avenue that has helped me is working with the Central Virginia Chapter of the Grant Professionals Association. We meet quarterly to share best practices and just support each other. While our realms are quite different, we often all face the same external and internal challenges. I now serve on the board of directors for the chapter as co-chair of programs. This allows me to identify areas in which I need help. Most of the time – we all need the same boost of training!
What would someone be surprised to know about your organization?
Ultimately, I want people to realize how amazing the James River is. How it’s more than our drinking water, it’s also a source of renewal and resilience. A lot of people think the river is unsafe for recreation. After a heavy rain, there may be cause for concern, but most of the time it is ok. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, we post weekly water quality monitoring reports to help folks track how the water is by location. Check it out! www.JamesRiverWatch.org
Do you have any interesting initiatives or programs on the horizon?
We do! This spring we are destined to plant over 3,500 trees to restore riparian buffers. That is by far more than we have ever planted in one season before. This is part of a 3-year grant with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. We also just launched a 3-year grant with NOAA Bay Watershed Education Training Program to work with all 5,100 sixth graders in the City of Richmond. We hope to hear soon about a green infrastructure program that will involve 5 libraries in the City of Richmond. Last year, we kicked off our Paint Out Pollution initiative, which involves implementing storm drain murals with native fish and fauna. Keep an eye out for more of those popping up around the Richmond Region!
Is your organization involved in any exciting collaborations or partnerships?
Partnerships are critical to our success. We work closely with the Capital Region Collaborative to lead the James River Work Group. We work with all school districts in the Greater Richmond Region. We have a strong relationship with the National Park Service and recently acquired a tract of land near Turkey Island Creek to connect with the Cap to Cap Trail. We recently opened up an outfitter service in the Upper James and we also just opened a new facility on the Colonial Parkway in Williamsburg/James City County. We also work with the James River Park System, James River Outdoor Coalition, James River Advisory Council, Middle James Roundtable and so many more.
How are you leveraging ConnectVA to achieve your mission?
For us to understand what needs exist, JRA has to keep our finger on the pulse of what is happening throughout the region. This site allows us to see what our partners are up to as well as what is happening in our communities. Also, ConnectVA is a great way for us to share meeting announcements for the Grant Professional Association.
Anything else you would like to share?
Please connect with us through one of our many programs! Either join us for a paddle on the James, become a River Hero Home, volunteer for our RiverRat program, or join and become a member – there are so many ways to help the James River.