On Saturday, July 17th my son Ajaccio and I packed up his Elmo Doll and headed out to watch a community empower itself. Were we heading out to a protest about a planning issue? No. We were going to put on gloves, don the classic orange DPW vest, grab a broom, and work side by side with the neighbors at the third â€œPick Up in Polkâ€ event (see photos from the eventÂ here).
We pulled up to the staging area and were greeted by an enthusiastic crowd (or rather Ajaccio was). There, community leaders Dawn and Frank of theÂ Middle Polk Neighborhood Association (hear Dawn’sÂ NENfm podcast interview about Middle Polk and the Pick Up on Polk eventÂ here) checked people in and assigned them locations along the corridor to work. Next, they trained people on how to properly pick up refuse, handed them a bottle of water, and sent them on their way.
It was a well-oiled machine.
The same thing was happening up and down the whole Polk Street corridor with the folks from Upper and Lower Polk getting suited up and rolling up their sleeves and getting to work as well.
Sometimes, it’s hard to understand why anyone shows up at all. It’s early Saturday morning, itâ€™s chilly out and people are often cleaning up after the late night crowd from the previous day. But volunteers show such zeal and appear to relish the opportunity. In fact the most common complaint was â€œSomeone has already cleaned the area I was assigned â€“ give me a new one!â€
I asked Dawn and Frank why they thought folks seemed so happy to be out doing this kind of work on a Saturday. Dawn shared with me that it’s one of the few ways people get to meet each other and to build relationships with those around them. Frank also pointed out that there is immediate satisfaction for participants to see how they can in just a few short hours make a huge impact on the way their community looks.
In addition to the neighborhood association members and local residents were representatives from the local Walgreens and Wells Fargo branch. Whole Foods kicked in beverages and DPW and its world class crew was doing a first rate job of collecting all of the bags of trash piling up on the curbs.
For a NEN person like me â€“ it was a beautiful thing.
After an hour dressed in a bright orange vest and working man gloves and pushing a broom around, Ajaccio was ready for a nap. So we packed up Elmo and drove off. I saw a group of folks sitting down for a well deserved lunch, laughing and sharing stories about the random things they found during their morning.
Youâ€™d think they just won a huge planning decision.ï»¿
Daniel Homsey is Director of the Neighborhood Empowerment Network. He can be contacted at email@example.com.