A $50,000 Black Hills Area Community Foundation grant and a partnership with Western Dakota Tech will help Black Hills Works revive a program to recycle obsolete consumer electronics.

Black Hills Works, which provides vocational and independent living programs for the developmentally disabled, started its EchoWorks Project about five years ago to collect old desktop and laptop computers, cellular phones and televisions to recycle precious metals as well as keep hazardous materials out of landfills.

But a downturn in prices for recycled metals and other commodities, coupled with the high cost of transporting such items to be processed, made the project unsustainable financially, Black Hills Works executive director Andrea Serna said.

Black Hills Works employees still had to be paid to disassemble the electronics. There was also the cost of transporting recyclable materials.

“We were in the red. It wouldn’t cash flow,” Serna said. “There’s still this misnomer that if you’re going to recycle, it’s free."

Black Hills Works finally stopped taking electronic items in late 2018 and sold a building in Rapid Valley that was used to collect and disassemble electronics.

But at an event earlier this year, a mutual friend from Dakota Rural Action brought Serna together with Kelsey Murray, Environmental Engineering program director at Western Dakota Tech.

They shared their goals for environmental stewardship and decided to join forces to bring back the EchoWorks Project, which became one of six finalists for the Black Hills Area Community Foundation’s Community Action Grant.

“All finalists submitted requests for innovative projects with the potential for great impact, which made the final selection process difficult,” stated a BHACF release.

“Ultimately, the Black Hills Works: EchoWorks Project was selected based on the partnerships formed, the multiple areas of impact from environment to employment and student education and the gap in services to our community that EchoWorks will address,” the release stated.

The grant will serve as seed money to get the EchoWorks Project up and running again. Some of the funds will be used to purchase a trailer for hauling materials, as well as to build an outbuilding for storage.

The Western Dakota Tech campus in east Rapid City on Highway 44 will provide a facility for collecting old electronics, as well as transportation though its truck driver training program of disassembled materials to regional processing centers, with Black Hills Works chipping in for fuel and other costs.

“The truck driving instructors thought this would be great experience for our students to haul actual loads across state lines and go through weigh stations, as part of the entire learning process,” Murray said.

Murray said Western Dakota Tech is pleased to be in the partnership with Black Hills Works.

“We both have this common goal, and it is neat to be able to pool our resources to achieve something greater than the sum of the individual parts,” she said.

“It’s going to be an awesome partnership,” Serna agreed. “We were thrilled to be able to get the grant.”

This year marked the second Black Hills Area Community Foundation's Action Grant.

The 2018 recipient, Feeding South Dakota, used the grant funds to help distribute food via mobile food pantries to 21,694 family members and distribute 247,170 pounds of food in neighborhoods located in "food desert" areas of Rapid City. The grant money also bolstered Feeding South Dakota's ongoing partnerships with other nonprofits and individual volunteers, according to Black Hills Area Community Foundation.

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