by Jennifer Fontaine – From the bustling cobblestone streets of old-town Brussels to the seafood-filled air of the Louisiana bayou villages, the world’s communities are constantly shaping and changing, welcoming and growing. With this growth comes great opportunity and responsibility for residents of our shared space to assume ownership and clean up of the important swath of earth called home.
Unfortunately, not everyone accepts that responsibility. Often we glimpse garbage-lined gutters along urban sidewalks, and oily rivers of goo fill nooks and crannies of our neighborhood parks, evidence of society succumbing to the pressures and pitfalls of fast-paced life. As we keep a watchful eye social media notifications rather than the periphery of what surrounds us, we inadvertently ignore nature’s need for nurturing.
But we know Outdoor Families Magazine readers are willing to accept that responsibility. Most of us already know that time spent outdoors equals fewer health problems, and promotes family cohesiveness. We also know that developing a tightly-woven community helps form a foundation for understanding, appreciation, and connection.
With this in mind, let us all take a pledge to motivate family members, friends and entire neighborhoods to get outdoors and onto the streets and trails to create positive change. Let this be the start of a new tradition, one promoting leadership and stewardship among youth, while also enjoying the great outdoors. Let us set out to organize a Great Outdoor Clean Up.
Pick a Clean Up Date
Give yourself enough lead-time to get organized, about two months, to plan a neighborhood cleanup. First up? Setting a date, keeping in mind Saturdays are generally the best weekend days for events. But before you start planning, be sure to check with your neighborhood association and volunteer organizations in your area to confirm there won’t be a conflict with the date you’ve chosen.
Devise a Plan
The most important part of any event is the planning stage. To start, download a cool project-management app, or go old school and buy yourself a handy divided notebook or a fancy three-ring binder with color-coded tabs.
Next, define the area your army of volunteers will clean up, a local park or trail, your street or a nearby beach, and then research your cleanup area for a better understanding of what that will entail. That means making a detailed list of the type of equipment you will need, including buckets, gloves and rakes, and starting to call in favors.
Also get local businesses involved, either by participating or sponsoring raffle items to give away to your volunteers at cleanup’s end. If this seems like too daunting a task to complete on your own, form a cleanup committee and delegate jobs to others who are just as excited as you about the project.
Build a Clean Up Team
If you don’t know your neighbors, this is the perfect opportunity to knock on their door and say, “Hi.” Convey your passion and excitement for beautifying and preserving your shared outdoor spaces, but don’t pressure them for a commitment. Just give them the information and allow them time to decide.
As well, it’s a good idea to reach out to other groups, businesses and local government in your community who may be interested in partnering, thus expanding your reach and the scope of your cleanup.
Spread the Word
Promotion is a key component to the success of your cleanup event. Keep marketing green with your marketing by publicizing on community websites, asking local organizations if you can place a pro bono ad in their newsletter, and inviting local journalists and media outlets to write a story about your endeavor.
And if that’s too much, sometimes nothing works better than a well-designed flyer, perfectly pinned on a community-center board or neatly piled at the grocery store checkout stand.
Lead the Way
The hard part is over, so now is when your true leadership skills can shine. The best way to do so is by giving kids the tools to complete a task safely, efficiently and happily. Hit all three of those goals and you will have had a fabulously rewarding cleanup.
At the start of the day, gather your volunteers and set them up for success: Share with them the cleanup plan and goals for the day, provide the safety requirements and restrictions, distribute the supplies and equipment they will need, and most of all, make sure to give them the recognition they deserve for their commitment to showing up and making a difference. If volunteers are working in several areas, it is also a great idea to assign coordinators to oversee those sites, answer questions and maintain safety guidelines.
Finally, don’t overwork your volunteers. Keep morale high by leading with a positive attitude and know when to say it is quitting time. Remember, you may want them to join your team again in the future, so treat them with care and respect.
Recognize All Efforts
From the planning stages through the implementation, until the last garbage bag is deposited in its receptacle, take the time to say thank you to your army of stewards. Make sure they understand how grateful you are and impress upon them that their service was an integral part of the cleanup’s victory.
Perhaps you can even organize a post-cleanup picnic with food and cold beverages donated from a local deli, and watch how people who were once strangers begin to bond, share their experience of the day and take pride in the work they accomplished in improving their communities. Then give yourself a hearty pat on the back and start planning the next year’s Great Outdoor Cleanup!
Don’t have the time to organize your own event? We’ve made it easy with this list of resources. All you have to do is show up and clean up.
“Let’s Do It” World Clean Up Day – Let’s Do It! World is a civic-led mass movement that began in Estonia in 2008, when 50,000 people gathered to clean up the entire country in just five hours. They are now an international movement with 112 countries working together, engaging over 13 million participants.
Marine (Reef) Preservation on the Thai island of Koh Tao – The Marine Branch is a subset of the Save Koh Tao Community Group, a coalition of Thai and foreign locals, and business owners and community members from Koh Tao, developing local land, marine life and education.
Beach Cleanup in Santa Monica, Calif. – Heal the Bay was founded in 1985 by a group of Los Angeles residents who were tired of the pollution in Santa Monica Bay. Their all-volunteer organization has grown into one of the most effective environmental groups in California, with 50 staff people, more than 10,000 members and a dedicated core of volunteers.
Reforesting/tree planting in Iowa – For 25 years now, Trees Forever has helped thousands of community volunteers, civic leaders, government officials and landowners annually to plant and care for trees, shrubs, and native grasses and plants. They continually promote the value and importance of our natural areas, allowing them to be protected and continue to thrive for future generations to enjoy.
Building trails in the Children’s Eternal Rainforest in Monteverde, Costa Rica – The creation of the Children’s Eternal Rainforest or El Bosque Eterno de los Ninos is a tale that began in 1951 and spans half a century, a story that bears testament to how individuals from different parts of the world can come together to create positive change. Today the Children’s Eternal Rainforest protects 55,000 acres of critical rainforest habitat, and provides safe haven to a rich diversity of animals and plants that depend on the forest.
Rescue stranded, injured, and diseased sea mammals in New Hampshire – The Seacoast Science Center’s Marine Mammal Rescue Team responds to stranded, injured and diseased seals, whales, porpoises and dolphins in NH’s coastal region. The team also educates beachgoers and coastal communities about what to do when they spot a seal or other marine mammal on the shore.
Footnotes: (1.) Hammond, D., McFarland, A., Zajicek, J., & Waliczek, T. (2011). Growing Minds: the Relationship Between Parental Attitudes Toward Their Child’s Outdoor Recreation and Their Child’s Health. (2.) McCurdy, MPil, L., Winterbottom, MPH, K. Mehta, MPH, S. & Roberts, MD, MPH, J. (2010). Using Nature and Outdoor Activity to Improve Children’s Health. 40(6).