Step Up Pick Up event the latest of many creative ways neighborhoods have been engaged this year

FLINT, Michigan -- Communities First, Inc., has always advocated for volunteerism through its “Step Up” program. This week, they’re taking that to the next level by incentivizing neighborhood groups to participate in a city-wide cleanup and litter removal project called “Step Up Pick Up” -- with $5,000 in prizes available. Groups are awarded based on things like the amount of trash collected and the number of steps taken.

“There have been ongoing concerns about litter and blight in our community, so we thought about doing a broader community cleanup effort and incentivizing it for neighborhood groups,” said Glenn Wilson, President and CEO of Communities First, Inc. “There are so many neighborhood groups doing really good work and this is an opportunity to reward them for their continual efforts. At a recent Flint Neighborhoods United meeting, we decided to move our timeline for such an event to this fall, rather than the spring because there was interest and need.”

Communities First is partnering with Flint Neighborhoods United and Keep Genesee County Beautiful for the cleanup effort. Keep Genesee County Beautiful works with community organizations throughout the year for various cleanup activities in neighborhoods and parks. They provide residents or groups with supplies like lawn and leaf bags, gloves, and garbage bags. 

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has created some limitations. For example, to prevent surface spread of germs, Keep Genesee County Beautiful didn’t loan out tools. But they did come up with creative ways to work with groups to do cleanups and other outdoor activities.

“We got off to a slow start, but more and more, we heard from community members and park adopters who wanted to be outdoors, they wanted to be helping Flint,” said Nancy Edwards, KGCB director. “We started giving out supplies by appointment, we wore masks, we met people in the parking lot. We’ve been supporting people who want to be outside and want to help the community.”

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, community cleanups have also provided a valuable and safe social outlet for people who have had minimal social interaction during quarantine. 

“I met with the Friends of Max Brandon Park, we all wore masks and were socially distant, but just being able to be in the same space with people you love to work with and know from other neighborhoods is such a good feeling,” Edwards said. “Our park adopters have been grateful to have other people to talk to.”

Edwards said several neighborhood groups and Flint organizations have found ways to do events in safe ways. The Community Foundation of Greater Flint has provided funding for socially distant and safe neighborhood activities, and individual neighborhoods got creative as well.

“The neighborhoods have figured out ways to keep people connected,” Edwards said. “Eastside Franklin Park had a DJ in the middle of the neighborhood, some have done things with food trucks, there have been neighborhood planting projects, Glendale Hills made scarecrows, one group had kids painting trash cans, there have been neighborhood activity boxes with chalk and jump ropes and other games distributed. It has been fun to figure out how to do activities to bring people together but still keep them safe. It’s re-imagining how to keep people active.”

Although warm weather is fading in the fall, Wilson said it was important for Communities First to do their Step Up Pick Up program before snow fell. The event continues some of the camaraderie that was created with various neighborhood-led activities over the summer. It also continues a long tradition of Communities First leading programs aimed at creatively engaging Flint neighborhoods and residents.

“The effort is not so much about creating something new as it is about highlighting groups that are making a difference in their neighborhoods on a daily basis,” Wilson said. “We endeavor to remove barriers and create opportunities for others as we continue our passionate pursuit of our mission. Creating healthy, vibrant communities requires us to uplift others and empower residents to do good. No one entity can make it all happen, so we chose to use our resources and influence to be a help wherever we can.”

Communities First is also recognizing “Litter Champions” in the community. These are individuals who go above and beyond to address litter. Nominations can be made through October 25 via this online form, with winners receiving social media recognition and a $25 gift card.

Wilson also noted the importance of having partnerships with organizations like Keep Genesee County Beautiful and Flint Neighborhoods United. 

“Partnering is a great way to accomplish big goals,” Wilson said. “It’s important that everyone knows what being a good partner means, where their strengths are and where gaps exist. We reached out to Keep Genesee County Beautiful because of their history doing similar work and access to supplies to help the efforts. Flint Neighborhoods United has a great track record supporting neighborhood groups, sharing information, and strengthening the community through various efforts. We are excited that they were each willing to bring their assets to the table to make this happen. It has been great working with Nancy at KGCB and Carma at FNU.  Next year, we plan to partner with them (and hopefully others) to have similar events in the spring and fall.”

Read more articles by Patrick Hayes.

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