Building community connections, one block at a time

Around the Twin Cities, neighbors are banding together to tackle the problem of litter. In early October, dozens of Litter Be Gone clean-up events were held around Minneapolis. Litter Be Gone started in 2018 as a partnership between the Alliance for Sustainability and the City of Minneapolis to reduce litter and raise awareness of the problem litter creates when it ends up in storm drains and waterways. Volunteer clean-up teams organized by neighborhood organizations, schools, and businesses coordinated their efforts to make a big dent in the city’s litter problem.

While the task of scooping garbage out of the gutter is a humble one, it takes on a greater meaning to many participants. At a Minneapolis Litter Be Gone event in the Elliot Park neighborhood, 125 people volunteered to clean-up the streets. The majority of participants came from nearby social service organizations including RS EDEN and Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge.

Kim Forbes has worked for MN Adult and Teen Challenge for over 20 years, and she has served on the board of the Elliot Park neighborhood group for just as long. She sees Litter Be Gone as a way for local social service organizations to give back to the community. “Sometimes people don’t view these organizations as favorably as residential buildings with renters or homeowners,” she said. “We want to give back and help beautify the neighborhood. This gives our residents an opportunity to do something positive.”

Amada Márquez Simula, president of HeightsNext, hopes to foster community connections while cleaning up her neighborhood.

Kim Forbes rallied 125 volunteers in Elliot Park on a chilly day, saying, “Only the strong will survive, and we are the strong!”

Across town, HeightsNext, a neighborhood group in Columbia Heights, hosted their own fall street clean-up event along the busy thoroughfare of Central Avenue. Thirteen volunteers braved a blustery fall day to pick-up litter as part of the group’s mission to clean up the city.

HeightsNext grew out of neighbors’ desire to beautify the city through clean-up events and native gardening. HeightsNext President Amada Márquez Simula notes that, when the group first organized, they called themselves the “Green Up Committee.” She deeply values community connections that come from volunteer service, and she helped found HeightsNext six years ago.

Today HeightsNext is focused on promoting community building and sustainability. Amada is inspired to give back to her community for a simple reason: “It helps me sleep at night. There are so many things in the world that I feel hopeless about, but this helps me feel like I’m doing something. If I don’t do it, who will?”

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