SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

December 1, 2012

Governor touts local recycling program

BY PAUL LEIGHTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — BEVERLY — Beverly residents Lauren and Patrick Belmonte have presented their environmental education and recycling program to more than 2,000 students over the last three years.

Yesterday, the husband-and-wife team got the chance to impart their lesson to their highest-profile pupil yet.

Gov. Deval Patrick visited the North Beverly Elementary School to witness “Change is Simple,” a program run by the Belmontes’ nonprofit educational company.

The governor not only observed the presentation, he took part in recycling activities with 70 fourth-graders in the school cafeteria, including helping to hold up a string of 228 plastic water bottles representing the number used each year by the average American.

“The one message I took away is a pivotal message to all of you,” Patrick told the students at the end of the 75-minute class. “One person making wise decisions can make a huge difference, and that person is you. It makes a difference not just for you but for your whole planet.”

Patrick’s visit was a big boost for the Belmontes, who started their nonprofit “Change is Simple” company in 2010.

Patrick Belmonte said he mentioned the program to the governor when he met him briefly at an event in January. Belmonte kept in touch with one of the governor’s aides, who ultimately arranged yesterday’s visit to North Beverly, the school that Patrick Belmonte attended and where his brother, Joel, is a fourth-grade teacher.

In an interview after the program, Patrick gestured toward the Belmontes and said, “Their enthusiasm is contagious. It’s a great way to learn through fun, and it’s presenting an important lesson.”

Lauren Belmonte, who has a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from Merrimack College, said she and her husband began their nonprofit when they realized the “disconnect” between people’s words and actions regarding recycling.

“In Massachusetts, unfortunately, kids don’t get as much science as they used to,” she said. “We wanted to instill an appreciation and passion for the environment.”

The Belmontes kept the students entertained and engaged with a variety of activities, including a relay race in which students had to decide which of four bins — paper, bottles/cans, compost or trash -- to place various items. Patrick Belmonte kept things under control by blowing on a conch shell.

Students were encouraged to reuse or return plastic bags, which Patrick Belmonte referred to as “toxic tumbleweeds” blowing down our streets, through our parks, and into our oceans. They were also advised to use reusable water bottles, start a compost pile in their backyards, and donate unneeded clothes and electronics.

“We all throw away 5 pounds of trash every day,” Lauren Belmonte said. “These are fun ways that you guys can make little changes and make a big impact on our lives.”

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.