Volunteers meet throughout Riverside to beautify the city and create community through the Great American Clean-up

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By Adriana Lopez

If you love your city, you should clean your city.

The Great American Cleanup is a nationwide event focused on establishing a sense of pride in volunteers in hopes of creating more caring communities.

Keep America Beautiful, a non profit organization that is dedicated to organizing and providing necessary tools to volunteers partnered with Keeping Riverside Clean and Beautiful, a community program that organizes volunteers to maintain Riverside’s beauty.

Throughout the four hour event on May 11, volunteers picked up trash, painted over graffiti, cleaned gardens and many other tasks that were needed to beautify the city.

Fairmount Park was one of the locations volunteers gathered, where they pruned roses, spray painted trash cans and picked up trash throughout the park.

Blanca Bautista, a student at UC Riverside, spent her time volunteering pruning roses. On top of the pride that came with giving back to her community, Bautista found the experience relaxing.

“It’s actually very peaceful doing this, coming from a stressful week it’s very calming. It’s not just rewarding for the community but for ourselves as well,” Bautista said.

While plenty of volunteers kept themselves busy at the rose garden, others moved on to various parts of the park.

Manoella Mundo and Josh Balsells, students at Martin Luther King High School in Riverside, spray painted trash cans throughout the park to have them looking new again. While they initially volunteered for the cleanup to meet mandatory volunteer hours, both Mundo and Balsells enjoyed the experience.

“I really enjoy helping everybody and it makes me feel really nice that I can help my community,” Mundo said.

Volunteering at Fairmount Park provided volunteers with  an experience that included a scenic environment to spend their day.

“I like looking at the lake, it’s pretty cool. I like the park and the animals in it,” Balsells said.

Fairmount Park not only serves as a habitat for squirrels but the lake within the park is also home to ducks and geese.

For some volunteers, providing a clean home for the animals was their motivation to clear out the park of litter.

Alexandria Dovbrovsky, who is also a Martin Luther King High School student, took pride in providing the animals a cleaner environment.

“I see all the trash in the lake and picking it up makes me feel good because the animals will be safer,” Dovbrovsky said.

Eventually the park became more serene, proof of the volunteers hard work.

Among the volunteers was Mario Lara, deputy director for parks, recreation and community services in Riverside.

Lara was thrilled to see the amount of people willing to put in a few hours of their day toward benefiting the community.

“Given the vast size of the park and the demands of our community we cannot do it all with taxpayer resources. We do rely heavily on community involvement to help us with the ordinary maintenance,” Lara said.

Outside of benefiting the community, Lara believes people can also benefit personally from volunteering.

“We’re outdoors, it’s a beautiful day, you get exercise. I promise you at the end of the day you’re going to go home feeling really good about it,” Lara said.

At the end of the cleanup, volunteers met in front of City Hall to return tools and receive a free lunch.

With the collected efforts of all the volunteers, over 15,000 pounds of litter and green waste was collected. The event was a victory for everyone involved.

Connie Librenjak, executive director at Keeping Riverside Clean and Beautiful, was especially proud of all the volunteers.

“We couldn’t do this without the collective efforts of the entire community,” Librenjak said.  “We’re so lucky because there is such a great sense of volunteerism in the community.”

As the volunteers gathered at city hall, it was clear that a majority were teenagers and children.

Librenjak believes that events like The Great American Cleanup are especially important for young members of the community to get involved in.

“It’s important to learn at a young age about environmental stewardship, it’s probably one of the best things you can do outside of the classroom,” Librenjak said.

The Great American Cleanup was a successful event, not only in that Riverside became a cleaner city but it also created a greater sense of community.

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