Cleanup nets 188 bags of trash and more
Published: Saturday, April 6, 2013 at 7:30 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, April 6, 2013 at 7:30 p.m.
By the end of the day, the mulch pile at the center of Squirrel Ridge Park was visibly smaller. Once, it had towered over the diligently shoveling 12- and 13-year olds. Now it hardly passed their ankles.
Word was traveling that the kids of the Department of Juvenile Justice only had one hour left to finish cleaning the park. Bernard, Jabari and Cubby paused only to playfully swipe at each other’s shovels; Ernest came to a full halt, surprised at how quickly time had passed.
“That felt like working for 10 minutes,” he said, before returning to his work.
Mid-shovel, he grinned to himself.
“ ‘Cause we’re getting stuff done,” he added, with gusto.
For 174 members of Gainesville organizations and families, Saturday was a chance to help the community get stuff done. At the Great American Cleanup, citizens claimed an area of land to clean by picking up trash, pulling weeds and carrying out other beautification projects.
Keep Alachua County Beautiful, a local nonprofit organization, annually hosts the event, which takes place in cities throughout the country.
“When people come together and take ownership, it builds community, and people take better care of their neighborhoods,” said Gina Hawkins, executive director of Keep Alachua County Beautiful.
At the beginning of the day, the kids at Squirrel Ridge were told that the park was meant for people who had lost loved ones to homicide. Their probation officers pointed out the plaques nestled in the ground, the flowers planted by the friends and family of the deceased.
Amber, 14, quickly became invested in the project.
“It really affected my mind to learn what the park meant,” she said. “I lost two of my cousins, so it means a lot to me to come out and help other people who want to succeed in peace and stopping violence.”
Although the kids are completing community service hours, for Chiante, 17, cleaning up the park is more than fulfilling a requirement.
“It’s nice to know that I’m helping someone and making someone happy without actually knowing them or touching them,” he said. “And it looks amazing.”
Caroline Cleveland, a volunteer at Squirrel Ridge Park for 22 years, couldn’t agree more.
“The park looks 80 percent better,” she said. “It’s come together today. This is what we pictured 20 years ago.”
At the end of the day, workers gathered back from where they started, at Westside Recreation Center, for food, music and door prizes. Here, the community drew together: the youth from the Department of Juvenile Justice; Cub Scout Pack 454; Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity and others congregated in celebration of the shared accomplishment.
Recycling trucks filled with garbage idled outside the rec center, showing a day’s worth of scouring. Inside, the Gainesville Job Corps Solar Program team revealed that they had gathered 20 bags of trash along the wetland area near Highway Court Manor: Along the way, they had stumbled on a site of illegal dumping.
In all, volunteers gathered 188 bags of trash, 10 yards of furniture, and filled a pickup truck with recycled hazardous waste. Volunteers also planted 72 shrubs and 14 trees.
“I believe (the Great American Cleanup) sensitizes people to the extent of the problem,” Hawkins said. “When volunteers go out and remove litter and graffiti, they become our diplomats. … They don’t tolerate soiling the environment.”
This is particularly true for the children of Angela Adams, mother of three. Kylan, Davyn and Brodyn loved running around outdoors and cleaning the road.
“I’m going to have to get them one of those trash pickers for Christmas,” she said. “They don’t like people littering, but they like picking it up.”