An overcast day with a good chance of rain didn’t stop 35 motivated volunteer members of the Laurel community who gathered to help “Pick up Laurel.” The rain held off, helping volunteers efficiently span out across designated sectors of the historic town on Saturday, March 16. Their mission – to clean up the crumpled cans, paper and discarded bric-a-brac that had collected on curbs, sidewalks and other public areas. Two hours later, 22 bags were filled with trash and hoisted away– giving the small town of Laurel that extra sparkle it needed and deserved.
Pick Up Laurel is a two-part community project sponsored by the Laurel Public Library, Laurel Chamber of Commerce and Laurel Historical Society in partnership with the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension’s 4-H Engaging Youth, Serving Community (EYSC) project in Laurel.
Engaging Youth, Serving Communities is a service learning program. Youth and adults learn about an issue, bring it to the community for discussion, and then do something about the issue. On Saturday, March 16, a great deal was accomplished. The second part, Walk Laurel, is a update of the Laurel Historical Society’s Walking Tour of Laurel Brochure, which will be premiered at the upcoming St. Phillips Strawberry Festival May 21.
Saturday morning, volunteers were greeted by the EYSC team, signed in, and were given “Geek the Library” T-shirts to wear before being divided into small teams. Litter can assume many forms and can carry risks – so safety precautions were reviewed. Each team received gloves, a supply of bright green trash bags, a first aid kit and bottled water.
Dr. Bill McGowan a UD Extension community development agent and the project’s coordinator opened the event and thanked everyone for donating their Saturday and participating in the cleanup effort. He complimented the group, in particular the Laurel Library, for beginning the conversation that resulted in the pickup plan. Before embarking on their civic mission, McGowan urged the volunteers to take in more than just trash, urging them to look beyond their target paper, plastic and tin and embrace the charm and unique characteristics of Laurel. “It’s a great town with a lot of history,” McGowan said. “You have a note pad! Use your camera! Tell us the story. Look at the houses, enjoy yourself. Take pictures of the good stuff. It’s not just about the trash.”
Leaving from their central location at the Laurel Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center (train station) volunteers ventured outward, equipped with maps that marked out sectors and significantly littered “hot spots.” Groups quickly filled their first supply of trash bags and called into the Chamber for reinforcements.
While they walked the neighborhood, the teams noted potential issues that might need attention, such sidewalks and storm drains that need repair. One group the Friends of Trap Pond, tackled a small ravine on 6thStreet near Rossakatum Branch and filled two bags with litter. Another encountered the first snake of the season – a garter–and braved on with their clean-up efforts! Another group realized just how close the sidewalk is to the very busy West Street.
With a combined 70 hours of work, the community effort had amassed a small mountain of lime green bags and covered six of their targeted 12 sectors.
Wendy Roberts, director of the Laurel Public Library, thanked the volunteers for their hard work. “Laurel is a better place because of you!” she said. Don Dykes, Laurel Chamber executive director, suggested, “Maybe the service clubs in Laurel could adopt a section and pick up Laurel every quarter!” Laurel Mayor John Shwed, who could not attend, sent along his appreciation, “I congratulate all on volunteering their time and effort to clean up the Town of Laurel. If I did not have this other previous commitment I would gladly join you.”
McGowan acknowledged the following organizations, companies and individuals for their support and sponsorship: Eva Dupont of ServPro of Sussex County. ServPro signed on as a corporate sponsor providing a truck and supplies for the pick-up, pizza for the volunteers and joined the clean-up. Jay Hall and Amanda Brown from the Delaware Department of Transportation and Mike Love, UD Extension safety agent and member of Safe Kids Sussex County provided safety vests, and Glenn Stubbolo, volunteer coordinator for Delaware State Parks for guidance and most importantly the Youth Helping Community team: Jerrica Robertson, Samantha Purnell, Darlene Murat, Cindy Murat, Kimmora Tatman and Brandon Bradshaw.
Pick up Laurel Day emerged from a town conversation sponsored by the Laurel Public Library during the “Geek the Library” initiative. In the conversation the opportunity to start a 4-H program Engaging Youth, Serving Communities emerged. Wendy Roberts and Dr. McGowan agreed to establish the program. Laurel youth identified Town Appearance as the primary issue. The group developed a discussion guide that offered three ways to approach the town’s appearance; Safety, Economic Development Opportunities and Pride in our Town. The youth team hosted and led the forum attended by approximately 20 people including the mayor, council president, chamber of the commerce and citizens. The discussion was lively with taking pride in our town certainly the most energetic topic. After the conversation, the group decided to focus on two projects, Pick up Laurel Day and a Walk Laurel brochure.
Over two months of weekly meetings youth and adults developed a plan to identify and solve problems. They created a supply list and budget, met with the executive director of the Chamber, they walked Laurel and took pictures, looked at houses and parks for areas that needed special attention, they divided Laurel into sections for clean-up, developed a poster and recruited volunteers. Through these combined efforts, “Pick Up Laurel” was ready for launch.
“All good work starts with a conversation,” McGowan said. “We are here today because successful communities know how to talk about what is important to them and then do something about it.”
Two small town forums hosted by the Laurel Public Library sparked this activity. Putting words into action is what distinguished this community effort from other organized clean-up activities.