Sometimes it’s easy to overlook the good things that are going on around you. For example, unless you walk by the Isla Vista Recreation and Park District offices right after Halloween, or on a designated cleanup day, you might miss the opportunity to see a group of community members with empty trash bags in their hands, getting ready to take on the streets of I.V. These people, as part of the IVRPD’s Adopt-a-Block program”, give up an hour or two of their day to walk up and down the streets and pick up trash.
Vanessa Thomas, who took on the job as Adopt-a-Block supervisor a couple months ago, said that she sends out volunteers to the areas that need the most attention. Before cleanups, she said, she walks around the neighborhood and looks for trash-filled areas. “I go through I.V. all the time and look for which streets need cleaning,” she explained. With about 20,000 people living in an area that covers about a square mile, finding problem spots isn’t difficult. “There’s a lot of trash,” she said.
Adopt-a-Block also focuses attention on other types of problems, like graffiti. Volunteers go out and clean this up as well.
For weekly, monthly, or annual cleanups there could be as few as 40 volunteers or as many as 300, Thomas said. One of the biggest efforts occurs during move-out in June; and then there’s the one after Halloween. This year Thomas said she plans to extend the post-Halloween cleanup from a day to a week. As anyone who has walked the streets of I.V. after Halloween would know, this is a great idea. The sheer quantity of trash left along Del Playa, and the rest of the neighborhood, after the partiers have come, seen, and gone home is dismaying.
But even though the annual cleanup events attract a lot of attention, this does not mean that people don’t come by to donate their time on a daily basis. During the summer, when fewer students are in the area, Thomas said, she might have one community member stop by to help, but during the year there might be as many as 30. While many of the volunteers are students and may be affiliated with a UCSB organization, others are community members, including children. Thomas said that there is a group of local children who come over with a community member to pick up trash on a regular basis. Afterward, they stop by Woodstock’s for a slice of pizza. And she said there are other organizations that provide volunteers as well. The probation department sends over people to do community service.
But there are some aspects of the program that Thomas would like to improve. One of her goals is to create a group of repeat cleaners. “I really would like to create a repeated network of people for the once-a-month cleanup,” she said. Right now people who donate their time might receive a $5 gift card to Blenders, a free Hoagie at McMaster’s Steak & Hoagie, a free slice of pizza at Woodstock’s, or a certificate for a breakfast burrito at Silvergreens. Isla Vista Food Co-op, I.V. Drip, Domino’s, the UCSB, the Bagel Café, and The Pita Pit also offer free swag.
Even though these are good incentives, Thomas wants to do more to make the cleanups a part of people’s routines. She’d like to figure out a way to have everyone eat a meal together after a cleanup, maybe donated by a sponsor. “So it will bring us all together,” she explained.
There is not a lot of money in the budget to provide outreach to students. “The budget is very small,” she said. The $73,000 a year allotted to the Adopt-a-Block program, which is funded by the Goleta West Sanitary District, does not allow for extensive advertising campaigns, after salaries, supplies, and other costs are paid. This means that she has to get the word out about the program in cost-effective ways.
During the school year Thomas said she is going to do that by talking to members of campus groups such as the Environmental Affairs Board, the Surfrider Foundation, and sororities and fraternities. In the past, Adopt-a-Block organizers have also used Facebook, Idealist.org, and Craigslist to let people know about coming events. Making people feel that they are part of a group, with the post-cleanup meals and perhaps other get-togethers, is another of her strategies. “We want to make it more like a campus club,” she said.
Since the mid-1990s, when Adopt-a-Block first started, volunteers have picked up a lot of trash. Just since 2003, volunteers have cleaned up 883,554 pounds of trash. This is trash that was not just an eyesore, but could have ended up in environmentally sensitive areas like the wetlands or the beach. “Ultimately, what we try to accomplish is to keep trash out of the ocean,” she said. “We educate the public about the environment and keeping things clean.”