clear What Does It Take To Start a Community Cleanup?

A good first step is to look around at areas that need attention. Is a community park littered? Is an empty lot filled with tires, construction materials, and overgrown bushes? Is a nearby stream an eyesore that discourages people from enjoying it?

Look at the people in your group. What skills do they have? Picking up trash and mowing grass require one level of skills; hauling huge hunks of concrete or using chainsaws to cut up lumber calls for another. Helping hands are the most important ingredient for a successful outcome; many of the materials and services needed can be donated by local businesses and governments, even for a major community spruce-up.

Create partnerships. Joining up with another neighborhood or community group can build your group's credibility and provide more help to get the work done. Environmental groups, civic associations, the local recreation and parks department, business associations, service clubs, and religious and social groups may be able to help or suggest other groups.

If the proposed cleanup site is privately owned, you will need to get written permission from the owner. You may have to check local land records to identify the owner. For a public site, contact local government agencies, such as the permits and licenses office or the police department, to find out what permits may be needed, what guidelines exist, and what kind of help is available. Special trash pickup, trash bags, and work gloves may be yours for the asking.

Planning a Successful Project

For more information on how to plan a successful project, see the National Youth Network's Planning a Successful Crime Prevention Project. This 28-page workbook explains the five steps of the Success Cycle:

  • Assessing Your Community's Needs.
  • Planning a Successful Project.
  • Lining Up Resources.
  • Acting on Your Plans.
  • Nurturing, Monitoring, and Evaluating.

The workbook includes six worksheets for you to take notes on. You can get a copy of this planning workbook from the Juvenile Justice Clearinghouse, listed in the Resources section. Good luck!

Whatever the site, establish goals for the cleanup. Will all the trash be picked up? Will new trash cans be installed? Will fresh paint liven up the playground equipment? Do you need to paint over graffiti? What about cutting underbrush, pruning bushes and trees, or planting flowers?

When you've thought through what you want to do, make two lists: one itemizing the supplies you need for each task and the other showing the order in which the tasks need to be completed. For instance, mowing grass next to a freshly painted fence could blow grass onto the wet paint, so plan to mow before painting. Trimming bushes or trees may call for special equipment and the advice of an experienced person.

Think about who can donate their know-how, lend equipment, or provide supplies at no cost. Set up a subcommittee that will approach these people to get them interested in your project; help them see how they'll help the community by working with you. Don't forget to check with local civic associations and government agencies (such as the parks and sanitation departments).

Check the site in advance for any hazards -- drug paraphernalia, poison ivy, thorny bushes, or glass and metal that could cut and harm volunteers. Make sure your group has the proper equipment and knowledge to deal with these problems.

Need to recruit volunteers beyond your core group? Get the word out to other youth and adults. Use posters, fliers, and handouts. Ask local radio stations to publicize your event at no charge; maybe a station will even send its community service staff or a deejay on the day of the cleanup. Be sure to tell people when their help will be needed and for how long.

Get refreshments and make sure you have arranged for cleanup and trash disposal. Often, if you work with the sanitation department, arrangements can be made for special pickups throughout the day or for help with removing hazardous waste.

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Youth In Action Bulletin July 1999   black   Number 09