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‘People here do care’ — Volunteers help clean Everett, Near South neighborhoods
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‘People here do care’ — Volunteers help clean Everett, Near South neighborhoods

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The volunteers report for duty once a month, on a Saturday morning.

They pick up their high-visibility vests, garbage bags, gloves and grabbers and start scouring the streets and sidewalks of the Everett and Near South neighborhoods, looking for litter.

And they find it. Candy wrappers and paper cups. Fireball bottles and beer cans. The discarded debris that can cast a shadow on how people picture where they live.

“If your neighborhood is treated like a trashcan, you feel like you can’t take pride in it,” said Isabel Salas, a community builder for the South of Downtown Community Development Organization.

Since the nonprofit launched in 2017, its small staff has knocked on thousands of doors south of downtown and the Capitol, talking to residents, listening for ways to improve the quality of life in some of Lincoln’s oldest and most diverse and impoverished neighborhoods.

And they’ve heard a common complaint: “The very basic thing of litter popped up,” Salas said. “It was affecting their quality of life.”

So in April, the South of Downtown group started hosting litter cleanups. On the third Saturday of each month, volunteers report to its offices on 11th Street. They’re given vests, grabbers and garbage bags provided by the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department.

Then they’re off to clean up a predetermined loop, typically the area’s busier streets. The hour or so they spend has an immediate impact on the curbs and sidewalks. But their efforts have a resonating effect, too. Others can see that it doesn’t take much to get involved, and do some good.

“The act of picking up litter shows you can invest in the neighborhood,” she said. “When people see us doing that, all types of people are saying thank you for picking up the neighborhood.”

And they’re not the only volunteer cleaners. Earlier this year, the Everett Neighborhood Association launched its Adopt-A-Block pick-up program after identifying litter as a problem for years.

Association president Paula Baker started by visiting Everett Elementary, teaching 18 lessons on the consequences of litter, and how anyone -- even kids -- can make a difference. Then she visited Everett’s Parent/Community Café, and reached even more people.

They posted a map of the neighborhood, and called for volunteers.

The result: 21 of the neighborhood’s 56 blocks have been adopted.

Every month, on a designated day, adoptive families clean up their blocks. And every month, the association draws names for prizes.

It wanted to provide an incentive, and a reward, for adopting a block and keeping it clean. So association members visited nearby businesses, asking for donations, and 80% of them gave. It also landed a $500 Impact Lincoln grant to match the business contributions, Baker said.

The prizes -- typically gift cards for restaurants or gas stations -- range in value from $20 to $50. It’s good for the winners, she said, but also for the businesses -- because it’s creating new customers.

“That’s been a fun thing. It’s given some of our neighbors a chance to get out in a local business they might not usually go to.”

The neighborhood association doesn’t measure the volume of litter its volunteers pick up, but board members -- and businesses -- feel like they’re seeing less of it, she said.

And she hopes others are seeing the same thing. “When people drive through our neighborhood, if they see a lot of litter, they see a neighborhood that’s not being taken care of. We’re creating not only pride for our own neighbors but also for visitors. They see that people here do care.”

Volunteers welcome

South of Downtown Litter Clean Up

10 a.m. Saturday

Meet at 1247 S. 11th St., South of Downtown Community Development Organization offices

Lasts about an hour

Vests, gloves, garbage bags and grabbers provided

Volunteers under 19 need a parent to sign a waiver

Reach the writer at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSPeterSalter.

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