A clean park looks and feels different than a park with litter. On Saturday Central Park was groomed clean, thanks to the volunteer efforts of hundreds of area youth.
Gone was the garbage. Piled up and removed were stray leaves, branches and other natural debris. The playground area of the park bore hundreds of fresh rake marks. The air itself seemed scented with the positive energy of young people making a difference.
“You should have seen this place. It was a mess before we started cleaning. Now it’s beautiful,” Nancy Jones said.
Jones works for Capital Region BOCES, one of the organizations, along with the Schenectady County Youth Bureau, that organized Schenectady County’s participation in the 22nd annual Global Youth Service Day on Saturday.
Event organizers said approximately 700 young people participated in the event, which included cleanup activities at Central Park and at Vale Cemetery and its African-American burial ground. And there were neighborhood cleanups throughout the city organized by Boys and Girls Clubs associations.
Global Youth Service Day was created in 1988 by Youth Service America and the Campus Outreach Opportunity League, according to the event’s website, gysd.org. The event started as National Youth Service Day but has since spread to other countries and millions of young people. The stated purpose of Global Youth Service Day is mobilizing youth to identify and address the needs of their communities and for organizations to guide youth engagement.
Shannon Costello, a junior at Niskayuna High School, was the youth chair of the Global Youth Service Day steering committee for Schenectady County on Saturday. She said she first became involved in the event when she was 10, which she said highlights one of the strengths of the activity: Even children of elementary school age can contribute.
“There are people as young as 5 or so [participating] with their families,” she said. “I really like the idea that there can be an event for kids to give back to the community, because it’s not that kids don’t have the opportunity to volunteer but I feel like it’s hard to get involved when you’re as young as I was, 10.”
Costello said planning for the event was different this year than prior years because of a realization that less money would likely be available to help pay for new equipment or advertising because of the weak economy. This year the event relied on equipment purchased in past years and created a Facebook page for free promotion for the event.
Volunteers Saturday were allowed to borrow rakes, gloves and shovels from the event organizers. But, even when using gloves, cleaning up Central Park can be a dirty job for the volunteers.
“We cleaned out the planters in front of the pavilion, and there were like diapers and stuff in there. I think there should probably be a sign that says ‘this is not a garbage can’ there,” Costello said.
A pizza lunch as well as cake and other refreshments were provided for the volunteers by the Reality Check anti-tobacco group and Price Chopper. General Electric also provided many volunteers and T-shirts.
Jones said Schenectady County first became involved in the Global Youth Service Day seven years ago. On the original steering committee was 16-year-old Stephanie Bomeisl, who died tragically of pneumonia before ever being able to participate in the event. Part of Saturday’s activities included planting new bushes and flowers in a small garden near the pavilion that honors her memory.
Also on hand Saturday were two goodwill ambassadors from the International Visitor Leadership Program, Simao Pascoal Hossi, coordinator for the Angola Women Action Organization in Angola, and Jose Manual Dias Lopes, the volunteer manager with “Banco Alimentar,” a food bank in Lisbon, Portugal.
Lopes said he was impressed with the cleanup activity. He said similar volunteerism is not unknown in his country but people in Portugal would be less likely to participate in something on such a “global level.”
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