When I was just ten years old, I gathered up my closest friends for a slumber party, sat them all in a circle in my bedroom, and pitched my idea of forming a “Junior Community Service Club” where we would spend every other weekend doing something good for our community. There were five or six of us that banned together in an attempt to spread love and positivity in any way we could. That summer and for many weekends to follow, we traveled to area nursing homes to spend time with the residents. We would talk with them, sing for them, read to them, or sometimes just sit and be there beside them. We gave a few different mini-presentations at our local library and at a day center for individuals with disabilities. We also picked up litter around our town when the weather was nice. Picking litter quickly became my favorite activity.
Even as a ten year old little girl, I knew that my purpose in life was to help my community and those around me but as I grew older, my calling to help others was slowly encapsulated by teenage rebellion, an inability to understand my own worth, and a decade’s worth of trying to not succumb to my own personal darkness. I grew pretty far away from wanting to help others for quite some time but that was because I had to help myself first. The thing with wanting to help others, it is sort of hard to do when you yourself feel broken.
Prior to pitching the idea of volunteering to my grade school besties, I had lived my first ten years of life in Phoenix, Arizona, surrounded by so many evils of this world, that, in reality, my want to form that little service group was actually my final plea to stay above the battering storm that was slowly drowning the inner me. I grew up in a household formed on alcoholism, drug abuse, and domestic violence.
My father was in and out of the picture for many years before just staying out completely. I had witnessed death, destruction, and dysfunction while also being a victim of rape and childhood molestation. My family left our home state with just the clothes on our backs and a few belongings packed into our two-door hatchback. My mother was determined to save us and saving us is exactly what she did. That car became our home for months as we traveled across the country in search of our new start. That search for home came to a stop when we arrived into a small, corn fed, Midwestern town- Freeport, Illinois, where I have called my home for over twenty years now.
Now, keeping that bit of back story in mind, here I am today, a thirty year old survivor of every single struggle and traumatic experience that tried to put my “loving light” out but my want… or rather, my need… to help my community and those around me is burning brighter and more fiercely than ever before.
In 2015, five years after my own divorce, while working 70+ hours a week, taking online classes towards my bachelor’s degree, and being the best mom I could be to my son, I tapped back into that fierce love and drive that my ten year old self had for my community. I decided to create a small Facebook event to invite friends to come to an organized spring cleanup where we would tackle the growing litter issue I found myself constantly complaining about. After a few people had elected they were interested, I decided to add a fun and unique twist by inviting the participants to come dressed in their favorite super hero attire or costume. That wacky addition to the cleanup has absolutely changed my life forever.
In the weeks leading up to that first organized cleanup, I used my own money to purchase 50 litter grabbers, hand sanitizer, buckets, bags, and the largest dumpster I could afford. I really wasn’t in the financial position to contribute what I had that first year but I knew that I absolutely had to start doing SOMETHING about our town’s growing litter issue. The day of the first Superhero Cleanup over 50 participants, ages ranging from 4-75 came dawned in their favorite hero wear, ready to FIGHT GRIME and tackle litter all across our town. We filled the dumpster that had been delivered to my own driveway with litter from ALL OVER my town. Some areas we uncovered resembled an actual landfill where furniture, garbage, and waste had been dumped, illegally, for years! Our volunteers picked litter for almost 10 hours straight that day. It showed me just how many every day heroes there are within my own community. It showed me that our community is worth caring for and who better to care for it than us… the community itself! Following that first cleanup, we created our anti-litter group “Be The Change” dubbing ourselves the GRIME FIGHTERS.
We have hosted a variety of presentations throughout our town of Freeport in hopes of spreading positivity and care for our environment. We have organized dozens of pop-up pick-ups over the years, cleared hundreds of bags of litter off our streets, connected with city officials, spoken at council meetings, inspired many, and will keep caring for our community in any way we can.
April 28th of this year will be our 4th Annual Superhero Cleanup and we are expecting over 200 local participants! Each year our mission has grown by numbers and by ground we can cover. Our goal this year is to tackle every single street in my town and with just under 500 streets to clean… I know we can do it! I have also been encouraging our Facebook followers and those on our Instagram @GrimeFighta to get outside on April 28th, wherever you all may be, and FIGHT GRIME! Feel free to tag us or share your Superhero themed photo to our social media so that others, all around the world, can see the heroes for our planet that day! We are all heroes in our own right and have an unwavering ability to change this world. Over these past three years of picking up my community, I have learned so much about my own strength, abilities, and worth. We are worthy of so much more than we sometimes think we deserve and a clean environment is something ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE is worthy of. Let’s all do our part to Be The Change this world so badly needs. No matter where you are or who you are… do what you can, when you can.