Sprucing up your community doesn't have to be complicated. Try these simple tips.

We all want to live in clean, well-kept communities—but sometimes humans make that difficult.

Garbage happens when we're not careful. The wind knocks over someone's unsecured trash bin and the contents blow all over. Someone pulls keys out of their pocket and a gum wrapper falls out. Litterbugs toss fast food wrappers out of their car windows. Whether intentional or not, trash makes its way into gutters, bushes and waterways every day.

No one likes to walk down the street and see garbage littering the ground or graffiti covering buildings. But it's not just unsightly. According to Keeping America Beautiful, the largest litter study conducted in the U.S., litter abatement costs more than $11 billion dollars per year.


Photo by Dustan Woodhouse/Unsplash.

A dirty neighborhood also lowers perceived home values, affects quality of life and can even impact our health. However, something as simple as a community garden can totally revitalize a neighborhood. We all do better when our communities are taken care of.

While municipalities are usually responsible for trash pickup and maintenance, we can all make a difference when it comes to keeping our communities clean. All it takes is a little cooperation, creativity and commitment.

Organizing a community cleanup can be super simple, but also loads of fun.

As a parent with three kids of drastically different ages, it's often been a challenge to find volunteer work that we can do as a family. But the beautiful thing about a community cleanup is that people of all ages can participate and do a great job in the process.

A cleanup can be as simple as going for a family walk through your neighborhood, and bringing a glove and a trash bag along with you. But if you want to go bigger, you can plan ahead and invite others to join you in an area of your town that needs some extra attention.

Photo via Frank Boston/Flickr.

With community email lists such as NextDoor, putting out a cleanup call to your neighbors is easy. You can also make it a friends and family affair by combining a service project with a social gathering, like going out to dinner as a group to celebrate a job well done.

1. Start with an organized plan of attack.

To organize a trash pick-up, choose an area to tackle. Look around for areas where the wind blows garbage into bushes or ditches or along fence lines. Then, make sure everyone knows the who, what, where, when and how, which should include:

  • The date and possible rain date
  • Meeting location
  • Number of volunteers needed
  • Outline of the work you plan to complete by the end of the day
  • List of supplies you need people to bring
  • List of required permits or licenses you need to secure ahead of time
  • Post-event steps.

Have everyone bring gloves (gardening or work gloves are more comfortable and less sweaty than plastic gloves) and two bags—one for trash, and one for recyclables. Once you've gathered at the agreed upon central location, make a plan of attack, sending teams of two or three to cover specific areas.

2. Add an extra dose of fun by making your cleanup into a scavenger hunt.

Photo by Vova Drozdey/Unsplash

Give each team a checklist and see who can find all of the items. There are common types of garbage you'll find in almost any city or town. Include those things in your list, but add some unique trash items as well. A sample scavenger hunt list might look like this:

  • 10 Soda cans
  • 10 Glass bottles
  • Straw
  • Fast food bag
  • 5 Cigarette butts
  • Plastic lid
  • Candy wrapper
  • Plastic utensil
  • Something metal
  • Something purple
  • Something square, etc.

3. Think beyond the trash can and look for other ways to beautify your community.

While picking up garbage is a simple, straightforward way to make a difference, there are other methods of sprucing up a community that you can factor into your cleanup day.

Take a look around your area. Are there abandoned buildings or lots that could be revitalized? Could they be used for something like a community playground or garden? Maybe you can approach your town officials about organizing a volunteer painting party for that run-down community center. What if you and your neighbors offered to pressure wash the graffiti off of walls? Is there a public space that could use some TLC?

Photo by Max Pixel.

The revitalization options in your neighborhood are only limited by your imagination.

4. Have a plan for Debris Removal

This is something you don't want to have to figure out after the fact: you will need a way to get rid of the waste you collect at your community cleanup. Whether your volunteers are picking up debris, painting over graffiti or planting new flowers, you will have trash at the end of the day. Call your city government at least a month in advance and ask about options for scheduling a trash and recycling pickup. If you're going for a waste cleanup record, consider renting a dumpster.

Some dumpsters offer their services free of charge to qualifying events around the country. If you would like your community cleanup to be considered for a dumpster donation, fill out this request form.

5. Keeping our communities clean is an ongoing effort.

Photo by USAG- Humphreys/Flickr.

Anyone who has engaged in a community cleanup project knows the joy of seeing an area looking pristine—as well as the disappointment in realizing that pristine doesn't last. But that's simply the nature of cleaning. Just as you have to clean your house regularly to keep it fresh and tidy, a neighborhood or town requires ongoing effort to keep it looking and feeling good.

Everyone can participate by being helpful stewards of our public spaces. And when we rally others to join in these efforts, we can all share the satisfaction that comes with caring for our communities and seeing them at their best.

Clorox is committed to providing a gentle yet powerful clean, which is why they've partnered with Upworthy to promote those same traits in people, actions and ideas. Cleaning up and strength are important aspects of many of our social good stories. Check out the rest in the campaign to read more.

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Brian Olesen never imagined he would end up homeless.

The former U.S. Air Force medic had led a full and active life, complete with a long career in the medical field, a 20-year marriage, and a love of anything aquatic. But after hip surgery and chronic back pain left him disabled in 2013, he lost his ability to work. Due to changes in eligibility requirements, he couldn't qualify for federal veteran housing programs. His back issues were difficult to prove medically, so he didn't qualify for disability. Though he'd worked his whole life, having no income for five years took its toll. He got evicted from a couple of apartments and found himself living on the streets.

But in 2018, two things completely turned Olesen's life around. He was able to both qualify for disability and to move into an affordable housing community in Miami's Goulds neighborhood called Karis Village.

When people think of affordable housing, they don't usually picture a place like Karis Village. The 88-unit development is brand new, and built with an attention to design that is not always expected for developments that serve as home to people on limited incomes. The apartments have tile floors, marble countertops, and all new appliances and furniture, and the grounds are beautiful and well-kept, with a playground and common areas for residents to gather.

Brian Olesen in his kitchen at Karis VillageCapital One

Karis Village isn't just a housing development; it's a home and a community. Half of the units are set aside for veterans who have experienced homelessness, like Olesen. The other half are largely occupied by single-parent families.

"To me, this building was just a gift," says Olesen. "All of the different parties that got together to put this building together… making half the building available to veterans. We've got no place to go."

Addressing veteran homelessness was one of the goals of Karis Village, which was built through a partnership that included Carrfour Supportive Housing — a mission-driven, not-for-profit affordable housing organization in southern Florida — and Capital One's Community Finance team. More than just an affordable place to live, the community has full-time staff on hand to help coordinate services—from addiction recovery programs to transportation options to job search and placement. Also included are peer counselors who provide emotional and psychological support for residents.

Karis Village, an affordable housing community in Miami, Florida.Capital One

Carrfour President and CEO Stephanie Berman says the core function of the services team on site is to build a supportive community.

"Often when you think of folks leaving homelessness and coming into housing, you think of shelters or some kind of traditional housing," she says. "You don't really think about a community, and that's really what we build and what we operate. What we're really striving to create is community. We find that our families thrive when you create a sense of community."

The intention to create a supportive community at Karis Village was a priority from the get go. Fabian Ramirez, a Capital Officer on Capital One's Community Finance team, says the bank did a listening tour in southern Florida to explore community development and affordable housing options in the area and to hear what was most needed. After deciding to partner with Carrfour, the bank provided not only an $8 million construction loan and a $25 million low income housing tax credit (LIHTC) investment to help build Karis Village, but it also kicked in a $250,000 social purpose grant to help fund the social support services that would be put in place for residents.

"It's not just all about providing the brick and mortar," says Ramirez. "It's about being able to contribute to the sustainability of the development and of the lives of the people who move into the building."


Capital One

Olesen says he and his fellow residents benefit greatly from the network of support services offered in the building. He says a counselor comes to meet with him once a month, sometimes right in his apartment. He also gets help maintaining a connection with the Veteran Affairs office. Other services include social workers and counselors for drug addiction and alcoholism.

Olesen loves being around other veterans, and he says hearing the sound of children playing keeps the community lively. He says anywhere else he could afford to live on disability wouldn't be nearly as nice and would likely involve shared kitchens and bathrooms and neighborhoods you wouldn't want to go out in at night.

If it weren't for Karis Village, Olesen says he doesn't know where he would be today: "I had nowhere to go and this is a safe, beautiful place to spend my retirement."

"I don't think they could have done a much better job of putting this place together and supplying us with what we need," he says. "I have so much appreciation for the ability to have a place to live. And then you add to that that it's beautiful and completely furnished and you didn't need to bring anything—I don't know what more you could ask for."

Karis Village and another development for veterans built the same year enabled the neighborhood of Goulds to meet the requirements set forth by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to declare an end to veteran homelessness in the area.

Ending veteran homelessness altogether is a complex task, but communities like Karis Village show how it can be done—and done well. When government agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporate funding programs come together to solve big problems, big solutions can be built and maintained.

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Capital One