TIPS for Organizing a Successful Neighborhood Cleanup
by Yelena Mitrofanova, Extension Educator
Keep Lincoln & Lancaster County Beautiful - Web site
Hazardous Waste Assistance for Households and Businesses, 441-8021
City Public Works and Utilities Department Recycling Hotline, 441-8215
Solid Waste Operations, 441-8102
Neighborhood cleanups are usually organized by neighborhood associations. Other community groups who might organize or help with a cleanup include:
- Non-profit organizations
- Schools, Community Colleges and Universities (conservation, environmental, service clubs, etc.)
- Youth groups such as 4-H clubs or Boy/Girl Scouts
- Juvenile and adult probation/community service programs
- General public
Here are some helpful tips for organizing a successful neighborhood cleanup event.
You will need time to organize the event. Start planning at least a month or two in advance. Spring is the best time to do a cleanup - before grass and weeds have a chance to hide trash and make retrieval more difficult.
When you select a day for the cleanup, check with volunteer organizations in your area to avoid any conflicts your volunteers may have. Reserve your roll-offs or hauler for your selected date.
A Good Plan
A good plan will help your group set a direction and document the steps you need to take to organize the neighborhood cleanup. Forming a neighborhood cleanup committee is a great way to get things done efficiently and build ownership at the same time.
Before you start, buy a small notebook and label it "Cleanup Book" to record names, numbers and other important information. It is recommended you document everything and maintain a cleanup file you can use for references and grant applications.
Research your "cleanup area" to get an idea of the support you will need. Consider making sample maps to coordinate placement of roll-offs, drop sites or pickup routes. Make notes on the amount and types of trash, any situations needing special tools/equipment or consultations, a rough estimate of the number of volunteers, names of neighboring businesses and homeowners, etc.
Some of the typical cleanup needs include:
- Trash bags
- Safety signs
- Buckets for sharp objects
- Insect repellent
- Tools (ropes, rakes, shovels, etc.)
- Trees/wildflower/grass seeds
- Safety vests
- First aid supplies
- Communication equipment
- Gift certificates/coupons
- Money for the neighborhood fund
Now you are ready to build your "community team" for your neighborhood cleanup.
Building a Team
Remember letters work well, but personal contact is the best way to build your team and secure the needed resources for the job. If you do not know your neighbors, now is a good time to meet them. Introduce yourself and tell them what you would like to do. Do not ask for a commitment -- that will come later -- just get a feel for the support you have.
There may be groups within your community that regularly organize community projects. Consider partnering with these or other groups, even if they are not in your neighborhood.
Businesses, utilities and local government also take pride in their communities. Ask them to help with this community effort by donating items, gift certificates or money.
Designate an event photographer to assure you have photos for your grant requirements, newsletter articles, annual reports, Web page projects, promotional flyers, etc.
Create a promotional flyer to distribute at local businesses. Specify what will be or will not be accepted; provide options for those items. Inform neighborhood members about trash pickup time. Specify the cleanup will occur regardless of the weather. Note: the West "A" and Arnold Heights neighborhood associations have flyers which can be used as a reference when creating yours -- contact them for copies.
Publicize your event in neighborhood newsletters, Web site, community bulletin board and local media. Invite the media to do a story on your cleanup -- this will recognize volunteers, donors and sponsors.
Before you start, gather everyone together to review safety requirements and restrictions, workday strategies, distribute supplies and to answer questions. Have a cleanup plan, such as starting at one end of the street and working to the other end or starting at both ends and working towards the middle. Spread volunteers out so they have plenty to do and not waste any time.
Designate a coordinator for the event, who will:
- Register volunteers - Sample Volunteer Registration Form (24 KB)
- Make sure everyone is aware of safety requirements and areas to avoid.
- Make sure children are assigned adult supervision.
- Answer questions on collection and removal.
- Have brochures and coupons available on how to dispose of items you cannot accept (hazardous waste, tires, batteries, waste oil, etc.).
- Make sure plenty of water, communications equipment and a first aid kit are on-site.
- Know what to do in case of injury or emergency.
- Keep a positive attitude and not let volunteers be overwhelmed; the last thing you want to do is overwork your volunteers; you can always schedule another day.
The Lincoln/Lancaster County Health Department has a "Checklist for Cleanups" which can be used to record all required information to obtain grants for future projects. To request this checklist, please call Harry Heafer at 441-8035.
Provide lunch/refreshments to all your volunteers after cleanup. You can have a post-cleanup picnic or gathering to let participants share their experiences and build new friendships. It is always nice to reward every volunteer with a small token of appreciation or certificate of recognition. Donated T-shirts, soft drinks and food coupons can also be effective incentives.
Take every opportunity to mention the support of your volunteers, especially when talking to the media. You should write thank you letters to key volunteer groups and local businesses/donors. Provide copies of photos for their archives.
Reflect on and record what worked and what did not; so you do not have to reinvent the wheel next year. This information will be essential for new members of the cleanup committee.
This article is based on the information from Lincoln neighborhood cleanup organizers from the following neighborhood associations:
- Arnold Heights Neighborhood Association
- Witherbee Neighborhood Association
- University Place Community Organization
- Other Lincoln neighborhood associations
For more information, contact:
Yelena Mitrofanova, Extension Educator
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County
444 Cherrycreek Road, Suite A, Lincoln, NE 68528.