This past Saturday I participated in Nuestra’s Cleanest Streets Contest. Nuestra (Nuestra Comunidad Development Corporation or NCDC) is a developer of low income housing and creator of economic opportunity for the communities of Roxbury and North Dorchester. Their annual cleanest streets contest is their premier community building event.
This contest is one of the ways Nuestra builds positive relationships amongst residents and develops neighborhood networks. Their hope is that as community members work together over the course of the day, they will develop the level of comfort with each other needed to tackle some of the other challenges in their communities.
Nuestra’s staff identifies emerging community leaders to serve as Cleanup Street Captains; these leaders help plan and support the contest. Street Captains canvass their neighborhood to recruit volunteers. Street Captains also ensure that volunteers have t-shirts, figure out what tools are needed, and pick out flats of flowers to beautify their streets. Towards the end of the contest, judges visit the different streets and decide which street will get the title of most improved street. The day ends with a celebratory BBQ to recognize the hard work of all of the community volunteers.
After I arrived in the morning I promptly donned my bright green hi visibility T-shirt (this identified me as an official cleanup volunteer), was handed a broom and was assigned to a 200 foot section of Blue Hill Avenue as my cleanup project for the day. As an environmental scientist, I have always thought of environmental cleanup as my full-time day-job. But this was clearly different!
Once you seriously go at the job of cleaning a street, it is amazing how much trash and debris turns up. Over the next three hours I filled three big green trash bags full of litter. I dug the weeds out of a sidewalk opening where a tree may have once grown and planted a couple of flats of yellow marigolds; much better than the weeds! When I was done I looked around and decided while some of the other cleanup crews may have achieved more than I did, I could still be proud of my work.
As I was planting my last marigold, my Street Captain came by and told me it was time to clean myself up and join the BBQ party that was already getting going. It was a bright sunny day with a nice breeze and the event was very well attended. Lots of kids running around and enjoying themselves; it was a great way to spend the day. Thanks to NCDC for the opportunity, I’m already looking forward to next year’s contest!