March 16, 2013 6:14:10 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
This is not "Survivor" or "Amazing Race," but there are alliances involved and teams working to complete challenges before the clock runs out. On Saturday, March 23, the LINK'd Young Professionals hope to recruit a few hundred volunteers willing to clean, paint and landscape Columbus during Clean Sweep 2013, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
This annual Great American Cleanup Event brings individuals, families, clubs, civic organizations and church groups together in a concentrated half-day blitz designed to spruce up the city. Volunteers reporting to the Hitching Lot Farmers' Market site at Second Avenue and Second Street North Saturday morning at 9 a.m. will be assigned to teams working on a prioritized list of projects. Many hands make light work, and organizers are hoping for at least 250 volunteers.
Jason Spears is president of the Golden Triangle Development LINK's Young Professionals, a socially-active, civic-oriented group of 21 to 45-year-olds in Lowndes County.
"My longstanding belief is that people only understand the value or prosperity they can reach out and touch," Spears said, noting the positive effect a clean community has on those who live in it. "If streets are clean and people see others out making it better, it just makes for a stronger community."
Getting to work
Spears is quick to point out that volunteers don't need to feel they have to "walk miles on end to make a difference" Saturday. There's plenty to be done that doesn't require that.
Tasks will fall generally into three categories: litter cleanup, painting and landscaping. There are also target projects planned, such as refurbishing basketball courts at Palmer Home for Children, an undertaking proposed by volunteers from the Kiwanis Club of Columbus.
"The basketball court is kind of an epicenter," explained Spears. "The children not only play ball there, they ride their bikes, they play -- so the Kiwanis Club is joining forces with others to restore it."
Plans are in place for a power wash, for cracks to be filled and for painting with a new water-resistant surface. All the basketball goals will be repainted as well.
"People just see a need and they want to help," Spears said.
The majority of Clean Sweep painting will be at Magnolia Bowl, the storied former football stadium that sits at the entrance to historic downtown Columbus from Highway 45. Previous improvements made at the Bowl are a direct result of the Young Professionals' involvement.
"Our goal Saturday is to repaint the exterior of the press box and try to get it prepped for more restoration after Clean Sweep," explained Spears. "And we want to do some walls behind Franklin Academy, more or less what was the old entrance into Magnolia Bowl."
The group's long-term goal is to see the Bowl transformed into a family-friendly, multi-use facility for exercise and other activities.
"Clean Sweep is a way of showing pride in your community, to show there are folks out there who care," said Young Professionals member Kathy Hoffman, who also serves as executive director of the city's Keep Columbus-Lowndes Beautiful effort.
Litter cleanup is a high priority for Clean Sweep. Trash on roadsides and in neighborhoods creates an immediate negative impression, especially on Pilgrimage visitors, who will stream into Columbus March 31 through April 13.
The shame of it is that litter is avoidable. Most of it is generated by thoughtless drivers who toss trash from cars, or let it blow from open truck beds. Some of it is left out by homeowners and scattered by wind and animals.
"Last year we cleaned 45 miles of roadway and picked up more than two tons of trash and 195 pounds of total recyclables," Hoffman cited.
Christen Thomas helped pick up litter along Seventh Street at Clean Sweep 2012. This spring, she is acting as volunteer coordinator.
"You just see neighborhoods from a different perspective," she shared. "Just driving by you don't see as much of it, but when you get out on your two feet to clean it up, it's hard to believe the amount of trash in some places."
Litter begets litter, Hoffman added. The group's hope is that when people see the roads they travel clean, they'll make an effort to keep them that way.
Even with all the volunteer sweat equity, cleaning up requires cash. Trash bags, paint, cleaning implements, mulch and plantings cost money. The effort is funded by the Young Professionals' Community Pillar Program, to which businesses contribute a $250 annual membership. Other businesses contribute supplies and in-kind services. A Community Partner level of membership is available at $50 per year.
Clean Sweep needs you
While volunteers may register Saturday morning, preregistration will help in planning, supplies distribution and an approximate head count for the complimentary lunch volunteers will enjoy at the Farmers' Market Saturday. Sign up online at cldink.org, or contact Christen Thomas at 662-329-9777 or Jason Spears at 662-816-0967. Or visit facebook.com/LinkdYP.
In case of inclement weather, "We show up and try to do our best," Spears said.
Volunteers of all ages are welcome. A parent or guardian should fill out registration forms for those under 17. Youngsters may participate with parents. Preferences for painting, litter patrol or landscaping can be checked on the registration form.
"Everybody has different talents, so it's nice to have options for people to feel good about when they volunteer," remarked Paige Spears, who assists her husband, Jason, in coordinating the event. "We've been so thrilled that so many people show up and that they are really there to work."
One of those dedicated volunteers is Assistant Chief Martin Andrews of the Columbus Fire and Rescue Department. Columbus' firemen have been very instrumental in Young Professionals' improvement projects, especially at Magnolia Bowl.
"It's just because I want to give back to the community. It revitalizes Columbus and makes people want to come and live here, and it brings the community closer together," Andrews said, praising the camaraderie developed when citizens and businesses work in alliance toward a common goal.
"Columbus and Lowndes County are a great place to live and work," concluded Kathy Hoffman. "And they can be made even nicer with a little effort."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.