When Claudia Herrera and other neighbors and parents at the Christopher Columbus Family Academy decided to organize a fall clean-up, they encountered more than litter and leaves.
A discarded needle turned up Saturday morning as Herrera, Columbus School Principal Dr. Abby Benitez, and a dozen parents and their kids marshaled gloves, rakes, and bags to clean up the school’s main entryway. Their focus was also the broad and windy corner at Grand and Blatchley as well as the plaza in front of the school’s main facade, with its rectangle of shaggy litter-catching grass, stretching east along Grand Avenue.
It was the inaugural event of an “adopt-a-corner” project. Benitez hopes the project will involve her parents and neighbors in maintaining the Blatchley-Grand corner of the school and the plaza with more cleanliness and security.
“We’ve been concerned with garbage flying into the entrance way ,” Benitez said.
The needle, which surfaced behind the school’s main sign at the corner to be adopted, indicated that the issues to be addressed may begin at litter but include crime prevention.
Herrera looked up from the needle and noticed there are no lights to illuminate the area behind the sign. That offers a good hiding place for a drug user or sleeping place for the homeless.
Benitez said that “Edita [Solano, one of her parents] is always in my office. She’s making me very conscious we have a beautiful building [inside], it could be better [outside].
Solano, who has a second and a third-grader at the school, said “vagancia” in particular bothers her: people loitering and drinking at the corner of Blatchley and Grand.
“Her kids are afraid and ask: ‘Why do the people look like that?’” said Benitez.
As to the garbage, custodians at the school clean only within ten feet of the entrance, said Benitez. That’s not quite enough. A lot of trash is created —and let fly—at Blatchley and Grand, part of the commercial heart of Fair Haven. Some help is provided by a clean up crew of the Grand Avenue Special Services District. Benitez said a special effort is needed at the entrance to the school.
Is it a principal’s job to clean up with rake, bag, and gloves? Absolutely, Benitez answered, regardless of whether it’s in her job description: “I need to make sure my kids arrive at a beautiful school they are proud of.”
The challenge: How to organize the effort, especially among hard-working parents who are often on their jobs on the weekend.
Enter Claudia Herrera, who for six years has been working with Urban Resources Initiative and Livable City Initiative to plant plum and cherry trees and improve her neighborhood on and near Castle Street.
Several Columbus School parents approached her; she was eager to spread the gospel of how a handful of people dedicated to beautification can also contribute to more security as well. Thus was born the partnership between Herrera and Benitez.
Saturday morning, as parents and kids separated out garbage and then raked and filled up eight large bags of fallen leaves, URI’s Chris Ozyck and Chatham Square Neighborhood Association‘s Lee Cruz briefed Benitez on potential small but meaningful steps: For example, place a couple of more garbage cans around the corner and plaza.
The corner at Fillmore, which has a trash can, is less littered than Blatchley. Cruz advised her how to proceed with the Department of Public Works to get another can at least by the bus stop.
As to the plaza, Ozyck called its maintenance a “grey area” that falls between the city and the Board of Ed. He suggested if the grass were cut more frequently by Board of Ed crews, when the leaves blow, they’d accumulate in a corner and not get stuck along with discarded litter in the blades of grass. “These little attentions to detail” make a difference, he said.
In the spring Ozyck plans to work with Benitez and Columbus parents to plant and beautify the plaza.
In the meantime, Herrera and Benitez are organizing what they hope will be at least twice-a-month clean-ups to involve more parents, other neighbors, and merchants to adopt the other three corners of the school.
Benitez was pleased with Saturday’s turnout although she doubts it can happen every week. “Most of my parents work on Saturdays,” she explained.
“It’s important for the school to be clean [on the outside]. It reflects inside,” said Maribel Ostorba. Then she held open a large garbage bag as her kindergartener son Andy dropped in a clump of leaves.