Last Saturday, buildOn students in Philadelphia participated in a very special project – a neighborhood clean-up around the home of buildOn program member Jamie Blackny, who lives in Kensington. Blackny asked buildOn’s director in Philly, Joanna Branch, to organize the clean-up in her neighborhood. Branch was happy to arrange the activity to directly impact one of her students.Our programs stress how easy it is to make a difference with a little bit of effort, and in this instance one of the lives being touched was part of the buildOn family!
To complete the cleanup we partnered with Neighbors In Action, a local community outreach group, who brought all the maintenance tools. Ray Gant, who leads NIA, commented on the project. “It really brings a sense of hope,” he said. “People in these areas not only live among a lot of trash but a lot of crime, too. This showed that we can live in a cleaner neighborhood if we want, and that we’re not alone in that hope. And it gives the kids a sense of pride and leadership, too.”
Over 100 buildOn volunteers helped clean Blackny’s block, including Blackny’s mom, sister, and dog, Princess London. We ended up cleaning not just Blackny’s block but also 5 additional blocks, including clearing 4 overgrown vacant lots. We removed 4 or 5 mattresses, old tires, and mountains of litter. Many of Blackny’s neighbors came out to say thanks, and also lend a hand. “A lot of neighbors brought out their brooms and shovels when they thanked us,” Gant observed. “That’s the kind of reaction we want to get.” Another resident brought out 6 2-liter bottles of soda as a token of gratitude.
“I think this showed that some people actually DO care what our neighborhood looks like,” Blackny said. “We got thank-yous from passerbys who may have wanted to do something like this but didn’t have the power. I didn’t think people in my neighborhood would appreciate it. It was overwhelming that so many people were thanking me.”
Blackny also considered the lasting impact of the clean-up. “A lot of people are more aware now of what they were throwing on the ground. There’s not as much trash around. People seem to be cleaning up after themselves.”