By Sandy Scott
For the past 15 years, Chad Pregracke has made it his life’s work to clean up the Mississippi River and other American waterways, mobilizing more than 70,000 volunteers to remove seven million pounds of garbage from rivers across the country.
For his tireless work to organize river cleanups, Pregracke was named the 2013 CNN Hero of the Year. The nonprofit he started, Living Lands & Waters, will receive $250,000 to expand its work, in addition to the $50,000 Pregracke already received for being one of 10 finalists.
Pregracke, 38, started the organization after seeing garbage in the Mississippi River near his hometown of East Moline, Illinois. He lives on a barge about nine months out of the year with members of his crew, organizing community cleanups along rivers across the country.
Over the years, AmeriCorps and Senior Corps have contributed to Living Land & Waters work. AmeriCorps NCCC teams from the Vinton campus have served with the group for the past several years, and the organization is a volunteer station for the RSVP of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois, where Pregracke’s mother serves as a volunteer.
Tammy Becker served as an AmeriCorps member at Living Lands & Waters a decade ago, and has been there ever since, managing the group’s educational programs. Having served previously as an AmeriCorps VISTA and in the Peace Corps, Tammy was familiar with value national service adds to community projects, especially ones that use large numbers of volunteers.
“Having the AmeriCorps NCCC teams has been the best experience ever, and has been instrumental to the success of the Million Trees Project,” said Becker.
Last spring, an NCCC team spent eight weeks working on The Million Trees Project wrapping, distributing and planting tree saplings as part of the organization’s goal of planting 1,000,000 trees across the country.
NCCC teams also participated in a cleanup of a squatter’s camp in Winona, Minn., removing more than 8,500 pounds of trash and metal off of islands in the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.
The national service family is proud to be part of Living Lands & Waters success, and congratulates Chad Pregracke for receiving this great honor.
Pregracke and other finalists will be saluted on CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute,” which airs Sunday, December 1, at 8 p.m. ET. CNN Heroes shines a spotlight on individuals who go to extraordinary lengths to serve others. Read about another CNN Heroes finalist, Blair Brettschneider, an AmeriCorps VISTA alum who started her own nonprofit to support teenage girl refugees in Chicago.