News / Nation’s largest community involvement program cleans up America


Nation’s largest community involvement program cleans up America
Nate Lipka

Issue date: 4/29/10








Spring is in full swing, and what better way to celebrate on the heels of Earth Day than to clean up the planet?

Keep America Beautiful, a national organization aimed at, well, keeping America beautiful, is putting on its annual Great American Cleanup, which is the nation’s largest community improvement program, according to the organization’s website.

In all 50 states, local affiliates are directing volunteers to parks, gardens and communities to beautify and clean whatever needs beautifying and cleaning. Activities include: litter cleanups; school and community playground/park cleanup; renovation or construction; roadway cleanup and beautification; clothing collection; reduce, reuse, recycle activities/education; river, lake, seashore cleanups; graffiti removal; cell phone recycling fundraisers, and more.

Keep Phoenix Beautiful, the organization’s local affiliate, has had its hands full in the last couple of weeks with increased numbers of volunteers, and they couldn’t be happier.

Tom Waldeck, the KPB executive director, has been at the organization for two-and-a-half years, and has seen a steady increase not only in the number of volunteers, but their enthusiasm about their help.

"When somebody volunteers with us, we want to make sure, first of all, they have a good experience," Waldeck says. "We want to make sure that they feel like they’ve spent their time properly, that we haven’t wasted their time, and frankly we want them to go home tired … We want them to feel like they’ve accomplished something."

College Times recently caught up with Waldeck to talk about the Great American Cleanup and how people can get involved in their communities.

College Times: Why does cleaning up places around the country have such an appeal to people?

Waldeck: Well, ever since President Obama was elected, volunteerism has always been a big part of his mission, and after the election last year, we’ve been inundated with people wanting to volunteer. All of his volunteer efforts are tremendous. We get a lot of response from corporations that want to do volunteer days for their employees; it’s a tremendous outcry that we’ve seen over the last two years. We work very closely with the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department, and when we do that, it’s definitely beneficial for all involved.

You were involved in last year’s Great American Cleanup. Tell me a little about it.

The Great American Cleanup runs from March 1 to May 31. It’s not just one event; it’s actually three months worth of events, and we do all sorts of things. We just finished last weekend our Corporate Challenge, where we had eight Phoenix companies, and they all brought volunteers out, and we spread them out across eight City of Phoenix parks. So we had roughly about three hundred volunteers with this event, doing projects. One company donated enough funds for us to buy 29 trees to plant at one city park. Another company was at another park doing work that Parks and Rec employees could not have done in three hours time. That is a small component of out Great American Cleanup activities. It’s really a compilation of many different events.

One of the sponsors of the Cleanup is offering a cash prize of $5,800 to the team of college students who logs the most volunteer hours. In your opinion, do you feel like you have to entice young people with a cash prize in order to get them to volunteer?

Actually no. It’s funny; the challenge a couple weeks ago was a competition between local companies. And the winner got this goofy trophy. The University of Phoenix won it last year, and the trash talking that was going on between all these companies over the last two months about who’s going to win the trophy was unbelievable. People get fired up about things like that. Whether it’s cash for a group of volunteers or a trophy, it doesn’t really matter, because in the end, the people are still volunteering and having a good time.