With shovels and brooms in hand and dragging trash cans behind them, staff and community volunteers from Prevention Point of Philadelphia cleaned up trash as part of Kensington’s Community Cleanup Day on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019.
As the Market-Frankford El roared above, volunteers plucked litter from gutters and sidewalk cracks, filling several 42-gallon trash bags.
This ongoing effort is part of the organization’s “Good Neighbor Plan,” where Prevention Point staff help clean up several blocks surrounding the organization’s offices at 2913 Kensington Ave.
“We are working to be a good neighbor of the community,” said Clayton Ruley, director of Prevention Point’s community engagement and volunteer services.
Staff and volunteers pick up and discard trash and syringes to create a healthier and safer environment.
“One of the great things is that we have a lot of engaged volunteers and staff that are not only willing to help inside our facility, but also outside of the facility,” Ruley said. “This is one way we can extend ourselves to the community in which we serve.”
The nonprofit public health and social services organization started doing the cleanup this past April, and volunteers gather the first Saturday of every month. At July’s cleanup, staff and volunteers collected over 100 syringes and filled 10 trash bags with litter from the streets surrounding Prevention Point.
Ruley said he has seen some difficult things, and the cleanup is one way to reach a wider swath of the community.
“We see a lot of people that are homeless,” he said. “A lot of people that are actively using and trying to survive the best way they can. We work to be as helpful as possible and help those people remain as safe as possible.”
Thomas Franks is a volunteer who has lived in Kensington for over a decade. He recalls how he was one of those out on the street and can relate.
“It’s about knowing that all human beings need care and compassion and sometimes you are not going to reach everybody, but you don’t give up,” he said. “Everybody out there has a story. They have faces, they have dreams. That’s somebody’s child, husband, wife. Just like you and I, they have a family.”
Franks said it’s important for him to help clean up his community because he believes one of people’s greatest resources as human beings is time.
“Just show up,” he said. “When you give time it shows that their lives matter.”
The goal of the community cleanup is to create a more open, inclusive, clean safer community. Volunteer Rosalind Pichardo noticed people are starting to realize it takes everyone to make the community better, as opposed to just complaining about the situation.
“The most negative thing I’ve been seeing lately is people who are exploiting those who are in active addiction and not trying to find a solution,” she said. “I think it’s important that people who are going through that and living here are seen as human beings and not seen as animals.”
Pichardo has lived in Kensington all her life and now works in the neighborhood. She said the best way to break stigma around addiction and homelessness is to meet people who are struggling where they are and not try to change them.
“Just be there for them when they are ready to go into recovery,” she said. “And until then it’s not up to us to us to judge but just love them as a whole.”
Ruley hopes to get to more of the community to join the cause as part of the organization’s long term goal.
“We need external resources to make it long term sustainable, but we love to continue to outreach to our community,” he said.
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