How We Got Started

Here is our Neighborhood Cleanup Story:

We have a culturally and socio-economically diverse neighborhood in South Hayward.  We have great neighbors and community spirit, but our streets are often littered.  I saw a need and decided to fill it. Starting in January, 2009, I decided I’d clean my section of Huntwood while jogging on my twice-a-week morning route.   With plastic bags and gloves in hand, I picked up litter as I ran.   Unfortunately, I realized after a few months the litter was coming back faster than I could keep up with it.  So I approached the Keep Hayward Clean & Green Task Force and spoke with then-director Chuck Horner.  We talked about the city’s vision of creating standing neighborhood volunteer teams to “take back our city.”

Dumped items are all too common on our streets

At our neighborhood’s August 2009 National Night Out block party I made a pitch and four long-time neighbors volunteered.  We began meeting once per month on the first Saturday morning of the month for 2 hours.  Initially we focused on a 5-block long stretch of Huntwood near our homes.  The city provided grabbers and bags and haul-away.  We enjoyed the camaraderie and the improved look of our streets.

We began brainstorming about what it would take to solve our pervasive neighborhood litter and dumping problem.  We approached other friends and neighbors and our team grew to 6-7 individuals.  We could then cover 10 blocks along Huntwood and Schafer Road.  The city did a great job picking up the large piles of bags and debris generated.   The streets we finished looked great, but we found ourselves discouraged by the quick return of litter.  Within 3-4 days our clean streets looked bad again with substantial litter.   Some members adopted their block or street as “Cleanup Captains” and cleaned it weekly to maintain a consistent cleanliness.   Even with the increased regularity of cleaning it was an ongoing battle.

We made progress with our small team meeting monthly over those first 6 months.  We noticed that initial cleanings of streets were time-consuming due to the major accumulation of dumped items and the heavy concentration of litter, especially near the railroad tracks.  But month by month we found we could move into more of a maintenance mode, with reduced density of debris.

In February 2010, we got our big break:  Glassbrook Grade School Principal Ruben Pulido saw one of our Cleanup Captains cleaning litter on the school lawn.  He wanted to help in a big way and we learned he is an enthusiastic community builder.  We partnered with him in a major up-leveling of our efforts and held a March 6, 2010 event based at the school.  He rallied his first through fifth-graders around the importance of respect for ourselves and our community, and promised popcorn and an ice cream party for volunteer students who brought their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles to our community cleanup.  We were thrilled when over 115 students and parents turned up!  We organized them into teams cleaning the streets they live on.  That day we cleaned over 3.5 miles of our neighborhood streets and literally tons of garbage and debris.  And we’ve been doing it one Saturday per month ever since.

Our April Cleanup drew 85 volunteers and we again cleaned the 3.5 miles of roads.  Significantly, for the first time in our year-long efforts we were able to attain the goal of cleaning all of one of our toughest target streets: Huntwood Avenue from Schafer to Harris.  This has been a blighted area of particularly dense refuse and dumping along the railroad tracks that has been a chronic eyesore for years.

In partnering with the Glassbrook Families we are pleased that young citizens were learning an ethic of community responsibility.  With the involvement of the school children and parents we are seeing much wider community awareness and involvement.  A new neighborhood ethic of responsibility, care and neighborhood pride and ownership is emerging.

As of January 2011 we have now had 10 monthly Glassbrook Neighborhood Cleanups, averaging between 40 and 75 volunteers!  For our October 2010 event we partnered with the Keep Hayward Clean and Green Task force and over 115 students and parents joined in.  We were thrilled to have Hayward Mayor Michael Sweeney join us that day!

We have discovered that litter is a lot like graffiti. If a street is clean, individuals are less likely to think of littering there. If a street is littered, individuals feel a sense of permission that it is “ok” to litter.  With this in mind, we have decided to implement a “defend the street against litter” attitude.  We now have ten “Cleanup Captains” who are keeping their block or section of street clean once or twice per week to keep the appearance consistently clean.  We are now at a point where the streets look clean fairly consistently – a huge, huge accomplishment! Individual “Cleanup Captains” who “defend their street” weekly can take a vacation the week of the monthly community cleanup.  There is always plenty to do at our monthly events as the litter comes back within a week.

We are so appreciative of the support from the Keep Hayward Clean & Green Task Force. We approached the Task Force and were able to gain a City Grant of over $3000 to fund 100 litter grabbers, 100 vests and ample bags and equipment.  These supplies are now kept at Glassbrook to support our cleanup efforts.  The principal is having each class use the litter grabbers during the week to clean his campus and teach stewardship of the school and the neighborhood.

We’ve tried to bring creativity to the project: To further our goals of raising conscious awareness of neighborhood appearance, we asked for help from the Hayward Police Department.  We borrowed one of their electronic traffic signs to broadcast messages in English and Spanish…”Keep Hayward Clean…. Please do not litter.”  We liked the results and the City of Hayward Street’s Department has now procured a dedicated sign to more regularly broadcast these educational messages.   Now our very own sign broadcasts:  “Glassbrook Students are cleaning this Street.  Please Help them! Please do not litter!”

That’s our story. We’ve now had over 17 major monthly events.  It’s been an interesting experiment in community organizing.  It seems to grow of it’s own accord.  I’m still jogging, and now we are at a point I don’t have to pick something up every two to three feet.  People are littering a lot less, and the streets look consistently clean!  In October 2010, the City of Hayward recognized our efforts by presenting me with the Mayor’s Award!  That was a thrill!   Our team continues to be committed to make our Hayward neighborhood all it can be!  We are the very first litter team in Hayward and hope to be a model for other neighborhoods.

Greg Galati, Neighborhood Volunteer


3.5 Miles of road including:

Huntwood From Huntwood Way to Harris

All of Schafer Road

Gading Road/Patrick Road from Harder to Tennyson

Mannon Avenue from Schafer to Shepherd

Tyrrell Avenue from Schafer to Shepherd


About Colleen Arnold, PhD

Psychotherapist, Mother and Writer, not necessarily in that order.
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One Response to How We Got Started

  1. laura Mattos says:

    Excellent explanation and graphics. Thank you for tackling a continuous problem and caring about our neighborhood and city. Your efforts are greatly appreciated!

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