When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
Cole Williams was stationed at the historic Grant Town Hall for their annual community clean-up on Saturday, May 4. As a newly certified Master Water Steward, Williams brought information about water-friendly yard care and upcoming community events, and also spent time helping local resident Bob Hagstrom collect litter from roadside ditches. It was one of the city’s largest ever clean-up events, with cars lined up along Kimbro Ave. throughout the morning, and at least three dump trucks worth of refuse hauled away.
Down the road in Stillwater, two teams of volunteers were already hard at work that same day, clearing away leaves and dead vegetation from raingardens around town. Kathy Warren led the South Hill team, with volunteers from Lily Lake Lake Association, while Louise Watson headed up the North Hill contingent, in partnership with Sustainable Stillwater. Together, the two groups cleaned-up 12 raingardens along Wilkins St., Pine St., and in Washington Square Park. In addition, volunteers were pleasantly surprised to find that many of the raingardens in town were already tidied up for the spring. Community residents have adopted 54 raingardens in Stillwater since the launch of the Adopt-a-Raingarden program last year, and the impact of their efforts can be seen all over town.
Down in Woodbury, Master Water Stewards Stephanie Wang and Anna Barker had rounded up their own group of volunteers to work on a large raingarden at Trinity Presbyterian. The helpers pulled weeds, cut down old vegetation, and put down fresh mulch in the garden. Trinity’s raingarden is just one of a dozen church-led water projects that can be found around the county.
Indeed, helpers have been hard at work across the St. Croix Valley this spring. When the snow began to melt, it took Community Thread less than a day to recruit hundreds of volunteers to fill sand bags and build a protective dike along the St. Croix River in Stillwater. When the volunteer spots were all filled, many would-be-helpers offered their support to Lake St. Croix Beach, Hudson, and other nearby river communities instead.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the scale of environmental problems we face in our world, and I think most of us have participated a volunteer planting event or Earth Day clean-up at some point in our lives and wondered, “Is this really making any difference?”
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the scale of environmental problems we face in our world, and I think most of us have participated a volunteer planting event or Earth Day clean-up at some point in our lives and wondered, “Is this really making any difference?” However, research from the field of community-based social marketing has demonstrated that “doing something” actually changes your internal perception of who you are. So, if you pick up litter, you start to think of yourself as the kind of person who takes care of your neighborhood. After a while, helping out becomes a habitat instead of a special event. When we volunteer with our children and youth, we also model the kinds of behavior we want them to continue as they get older. They learn that people can work together to fix problems in life and they feel proud to be part of the solution.
Last weekend, local mom Nicolette Gropel organized a community clean-up with families at Trinity Lutheran Church. With bags in hand, the kids fanned out along 3rd and 4th streets to collect chip bags, soda bottles, and hundreds of cigarette butts. “I think it’s so important for us to teach our children an environmental ethic and model good behavior,” she said as the kids celebrated their hard work with cookies at the end of the morning. The children piled their bags of litter on the playground and posed proudly for a picture.
Look for the helpers in your community. If you can’t find them, then become one.