Commentary: A cleaner Philly starts with you

The 10th Annual Philly Spring Cleanup (phillyspringcleanup.com) is April 8.

By Michelle Feldman

Walnut Hill. Graduate Hospital. Point Breeze.

What do all of these have in common? Stories that prove an oft-told message to be true:

Individuals can make a tangible difference in their neighborhood, and in doing so activate those around them.

Take Angela Val. Last year, the longtime Point Breeze resident took it upon herself to raise the necessary funds for a pilot street-cleaning program in her neighborhood. She teamed up with her local Community Development Corporation and hired Ready, Willing & Able to clean once a week after trash day. And she's aiming to expand the project in 2017 - all the while engaging additional residents and businesses to join the effort. (Those looking to get involved with the Clean Point Breeze Streets program can reach out to Angela at cleanpointbreezestreets@gmail.com.)

In Graduate Hospital, Ivy and Matt Olesh, Sasha Dages, and James Phimister spoke over dinner one night about how they were sick of walking outside every morning and coming home every night to a littered block. They'd had enough. So they gathered their neighbors for weekly cleanups - which took 15 to 20 minutes tops out of everyone's busy day, and reinforced the idea that keeping a block clean is part of one's civic duty. They quickly realized that these weekly gatherings were an opportunity for the kids on the block to play, to understand why keeping the street clean was important - and to challenge each other and their neighboring blocks to a friendly competition. Who could pick up the most trash? Which block was the cleanest of them all? These neighbors used the cleanups to tighten the bonds of an already close-knit block, starting an e-mail list and a Facebook group to stay in touch between cleanups.

In West Philadelphia, Dave Brindley decided to use technology to fight litter in his community. He engaged local civic group Code for Philly to build a mobile application where residents can register their block and receive supplies (and a gift card to a local business) in return for agreeing to clean their block once a week. NotInPhilly.org launched in Walnut Hill this past year with the help of the Pennsylvania Resources Council, and now Dave is working to bring the program to other parts of the city too.

We just made that all sound easy, right? Well, here's the truth: It's hard work, but achievable.

Individuals can have a real impact in solving seemingly intractable problems - and in inspiring others. Small actions make a difference, and can be leveraged to secure additional resources of all kinds.

At Keep Philadelphia Beautiful, we've been doing this work for more than 30 years - and we have learned some lessons along the way, illuminated by the stories of Angela, Ivy, and Dave:

Know what resources are available to you, through city government, nonprofits like Code for Philly, or your local civic organizations. Check out keepphiladelphiabeautiful.org/resources to get started, or contact us with questions.

Build a team like Ivy, Matt, Sasha, and James did. Nobody can do this work alone.

Persist. Keep at it even when progress isn't made as quickly as you'd hoped. Try something new if a current effort isn't achieving the results you seek.

With the 10th Annual Philly Spring Cleanup (phillyspringcleanup.com) fast approaching on April 8, now's your chance to team up with your neighbors to get that community project - large or small - started. Put your idea on paper, and go knock on some doors.

Michelle Feldman is director of Keep Philadelphia Beautiful (www.keepphiladelphiabeautiful.org). @BeautifulPHL michelle@keepphiladelphiabeautiful.org

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