Volunteers put in the time so the city will shine
BY SUSAN BURGESS
Ever notice that some of Port St. Lucie’s streets are sparkling clean and litter-free? And then there are the others where fast-food bags, cigarette butts, beverage containers and worse turn the roadside into an ugly mess.
So, why are some streets clean and others aren’t? It’s because the city has an army of dedicated volunteers who go out and pick up the garbage that people toss out their vehicle windows. But the volunteer pickups don’t occur on all streets; they only take place on streets that have been adopted by residents who set up a group and schedule pickups. These groups, which can even involve a single individual, enhance the city’s own maintenance work.
“It makes me angry that people don’t want to clean up after themselves,” says Rubens Severe, whose family covers three blocks in the Faye Street area east of Torino Parkway. He and his wife bring their children along and teach them why it is important to participate in community cleanups. These lessons, he says, will stay with them for life.
An Adopt-a-Street sign caught Michelle Severe’s eye, leading her to check out the city’s website and sign up. On a typical outing, they find grocery bags, beer cans, fast-food cups, cigarette butts, broken glass and newspapers. The family loves to grab things to recycle. They take their finds home to be picked up by the city on their normal garbage day, but they call the city Department of Public Works if they discover anything bulky.
Twenty-eight years ago Port St. Lucie created Keep Port St. Lucie Beautiful, a chapter of the national Keep America Beautiful organization. The first group to jump in was the Lions Club from 1992 to 2012. The oldest group is Calvary PSL, which started in 2013.
Since 1992, Keep Port St. Lucie Beautiful has embarked on a number of programs, among them Adopt-a-Street. Street adopters commit to keeping a street or streets clean. The volunteers can be seen along the roads and grassy areas with their bright orange shirts, safety vests and long sticks that can grab even small pieces of litter to drop in a bag or bucket.
Some new volunteers join after talking with people on the roadside who are picking up litter. Others see the Adopt-a-Street road signs, each with the team name responsible for the area on the bottom of the sign.
“It was the road signs for me,” Amber Blizzard says. “Growing up I always wanted to do more for the area I live in. I talked to my husband first and he said yes, so I went to the city’s website and filled out an application and they called me.”
A TEACHING MOMENT
For the last nine months, the family has enjoyed the monthly outings.
“My kids are so happy to be involved,” she says. “It’s a great feeling as a parent to know you are teaching your kids something important. We talk about a lot of things, like not throwing stuff on the road that will end up in the river or the ocean, and about turtles getting caught in plastic.
“It breaks my heart to see what people do,” Blizzard says. “When you are picking up you get a different perspective. There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing someone throw something on the ground when there is a trash can 10 feet away.”
The Blizzard family works from SW Monterrey Lane, covering four or five blocks totaling a mile one way. They usually pick up 60 to 80 pieces of recycling material and two 13-gallon bags of trash.
TONS OF TRASH
Adopt-a-Street has 154 groups totaling 1,038 volunteers, says Georgette Beck, coordinator of special projects for Keep Port St. Lucie Beautiful. In the past five years, the entire Adopt-a-Street program collected more than 211,000 pounds of trash that took the volunteers about 20,000 hours to collect, if you count the hours each man, woman and child puts in during that time.
The city hosted an appreciation breakfast earlier this year, which was attended by 245 volunteers.
“Their efforts make a huge difference in our community,” Beck wrote in an announcement about the event. “In 2019, the volunteers contributed over 4,509 volunteer hours to collect over 47,245 pounds (2,362 bags) of trash!”
Gary Smith, a former Pittsburgh attorney who retired to Kings Isle in St. Lucie West, is a huge advocate for litter control. Before Adopt-a-Street was formed, he was the first volunteer to ride with the city street maintenance workers as they traveled by golf cart to do cleanups. He organized a symposium in December at the civic center to draw attention to problems caused by littering. He was also a member of the Keep Port St. Lucie Beautiful committee for 18 months.
Smith founded a pickup group at Kings Isle called Ping Pong because it was created from members of a ping pong club in the neighborhood. Ping Pong includes four people who pick up litter in the mile around Bethany Drive and Bayshore Boulevard. They go out every Sunday at 7 a.m. “because it is the safest day and time for this,” he said. Volunteers are required by the city to watch a safety video before their first pickup.
To help people collect the litter, Smith and volunteers make square wooden frames that will hold the bags open at the top. Created by group member Walt Selk, who has since passed away, they are constructed in Smith’s garage and handed out to all who ask for them.
“We’ve donated more than 500 of them to the city,” Smith says. “It makes the job so much easier.”
Smith often stops near a medical building in St. Lucie West. There, he picks up piles of cigarette butts. Recently he picked up 473 cigarette butts in an hour and 20 minutes, he said.
HONORED FOR EFFORTS
The city recently won an award from U.S. News and World Report for being the ninth best place for families to live in Florida. One of the criteria named in choosing Port St. Lucie was its clean streets and neighborhoods.
“Currently, more than 154 miles of city streets are litter-free thanks to over 150 groups and individuals who have adopted these public roadways — about one mile per group,” the city explains on its Adopt-a-Street website.
“With more than 200,000 people in the city, it would be easy for the remaining 757 miles of city-maintained roads to become just as litter-free,” according to the website. “Removing litter before it reaches the city storm system also reduces the amount of storm water runoff pollution, thus keeping our wetlands, lakes and rivers cleaner.”
An Adopt-a-Street group can be a family, an individual or a number of like-minded individuals who want to help keep their neighborhood clean and attractive.
IF YOU’RE INTERESTED …
To join the Adopt-a-Street program go to https://tinyurl.com/qtr7dj5
Keep Port St. Lucie Beautiful hosts several programs including the Buddy Bench project in which bottle caps are turned into benches and the hazardous household waste collection days. To learn more and to participate, go here: https://tinyurl.com/sgsu6d5.