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Keeping Forsyth County beautiful for 25 years
Crystal Johnson, chair of Keep Forsyth County Beautiful's Board of Directors, gives volunteer Denise Carleton a hug after she was awarded the Crystal Johnson Award for longterm commitment at support to the organization.

A lot has changed in Forsyth County over 25 years, but one thing has not: Keep Forsyth County Beautiful’s commitment to keeping roads and waterways clean while educating the community about environmental issues

On Wednesday, KFCB hosted an awards ceremony to celebrate 25 years of helping keep the county clean, complete with a dinner, a look back over the years and lots of awards given out to community partners.

Tammy Wright, manager of environmental programs for the Forsyth County Recycling and Solid Waste Department, said over the years KFCB has led or partnered with other local groups to provide a range of services including Adopt-A-Stream, a frog monitoring program, outreach with schools, storm strain markers, Shore Sweep, the Great American Cleanup, recycling education and more.

“We do preach recycling, but reduce, reuse, those come first,” Wright said. “That’s a part of Keep Forsyth County Beautiful, and anytime we do a presentation, it’s usually about solid waste in general. We cover everything. If you don’t create it, you don’t have to recycle it, you don’t have to throw it away. But we do a lot of recycling education.”

During the event, individuals, businesses and schools received recognition for their environmental efforts.

Eighteen local schools were honored with Green Schools awards.

Gold medal winners were Big Creek, Brandywine, Brookwood, Chattahoochee, Chestatee, Coal Mountain, Cumming, Daves Creek, Kelly Mill, Matt, Midway, Sharon and Whitlow elementary schools and Forsyth Central and Denmark high schools.

Sawnee Elementary School was a silver medal winner, and Johns Creek Elementary School and Otwell Middle School won bronze.

Individuals from a number of those schools were also recognized for their individual efforts, with Sawnee’s Brenda Mahoney being named Educator of the Year, Denmark’s Hannah Kesner winning Student of the Year, Chestatee’s Susan Brady being selected as Coordinator of the Year and Matt’s Sandra Campbell as Volunteer of the Year.

Outside of schools, businesses and other volunteers were honored with KFCB Awards for their efforts, with Bryan Properties winning the Newcomer Award for "Outstanding New Sponsor," Advance Disposal being named Corporate Partner for "Long Term Commitment & Support" and Gene and Diane Hansard earning the Adopt-A-Road Legacy Award for "25 Years of Service."

Arguably the most prestigious award given in the ceremony was the inaugural Crystal Johnson Award, named for the longtime volunteer and current chair of the group’s board of directors and given for long term commitment and support.

Wright said the board had wanted to honor Johnson with an award but “she would not hear of it” and instead, they decided to name the new award in her honor to be given out at the ceremonies held every five years.

“I have enjoyed so many years with this organization, and along the way there has been one person who has been there since almost the beginning,” Johnson said. “So, when Tammy, said, ‘OK, we’ll give an award in your honor,’ there was no doubt in my mind who the recipient of the longtime award should be for commitment to our county and beyond.”

That award was presented to Denise Carleton, who Johnson said started with Daves Creek’s recycling program in 2006 and has taken on all sorts of recycling programs since, including work with the Shepard Center’s efforts.

Carleton – co-founder and executive director of the Reaping Nature Educational Outreach Foundation – even used her time accepting the award to push for local projects, such as a new building or space for teachers to come and “shop” for donated items.

“That’s my latest endeavor, besides working at the Shepherd Center, which I’m very honored,” she said. “My counselor there, I would take recycling from my hospital room there, she would take it and we talked for years, and now [there is] a whole sustainability program at the Shepherd Center, which is amazing.”

Wright said though Keep Forsyth County Beautiful had a lot to look back on over the past quarter-century, they still had big plans going forward, such as an increased number of recycling centers across the county and a possible center for hard-to-recycle material.

“Our future dream for 2020 is to do a piggyback on what we are hoping will roll out as a statewide litter campaign, and our campaign will be under the umbrella of ‘Litter Free Forsyth County,’” Wright said. “Everybody just imagine a litter-free Forsyth County. Not just a little bit, but litter-free, and that’s where we want the bar to be. So, if you set the bar that high, we may not reach it, but it gives you the highest expectations possible.”