A beautiful city is more than just pleasing to the eye. It also serves as a center of pride and loyalty for those who call that place home.
Keep Philadelphia Beautiful has been active in the Philadelphia community for more than 20 years, working towards a cleaner city through litter prevention, recycle education and promotion and waste reduction.
While KPB orchestrates cleanups to beautify the physical urban environment, it also focuses on the importance of learning how to be sustainable and putting these practices into action.
Michelle Feldman, executive director of KPB, believes that interactive learning encourages students to take what they have learned and apply it outside of the classroom. Last year, KPB spoke to more than 800 students and as of this year, has already reached more than 200 students.
“I love to do hands-on [education],” said Feldman. “I always feel like that’s a better way to go about making students care about keeping their community clean. It’s always more fun. You get better questions that way.”
KPB has worked with Need in Deed, an educational organization dedicated to helping children apply what they have learned in the classroom to improve social issues they see within their neighborhoods and surrounding communities. In order to accomplish this, Need in Deed brings in industry professionals and other personnel to discuss the issues students find most important, such as pollution, trash and recycling.
This is one area where KPB has had a positive impact.
“Kids in third through eigth grade see these social and community issues and think one of two things: either the problem is too big and they can’t do anything about it, or that it’s not our problem and to allow for a diffusion of this problem,” said Sharon Ahram, program manager at Need in Deed. “Michelle is able to come in and change this mindset and help the students realize you can really help others. The other side is that it’s really cool to be able to talk to a professional in the industry. Michelle helps create a bigger picture impact.”
During the cleanup season that runs from April to November, KPB focuses on community beautification throughout the city. One of these projects includes a community composting program partnered with Bennett Compost and the Urban Tree Connection in West Philadelphia. Another endeavor of KPB is a 25-family pilot program that is focused on compost education and pickup, funded by Keep America Beautiful and Waste Management. This works to increase awareness and understanding of the importance of composting for the environment.
During the 7th Annual Philly Spring Cleanup, KPB took an active role in the citywide effort to beautify Philadelphia. KPB worked at the Edward Gideon Elementary School to give the school grounds a makeover. This cleanup highlights the 10th anniversary of the school’s playground, which was built in 2004 in conjunction with the Eagles Youth Partnership.
With help from faculty and staff members, the student body, parents and community members, the cleanup aimed to tidy up the schoolyard by removing trash and other debris. Beyond that, KPB and the Edward Gideon Elementary School cleaned and painted the playground equipment.
Principal Jeannine Payne sees this cleanup as an experience that will have both immediate and long-lasting effects.
“I’m just hoping for a clean schoolyard. I’m a simple person,” Payne said with a laugh. “If we could get students to participate, they [may] feel invested in some way to upkeep it. A little bit of ownership is what I’m hoping for.”
And KPB’s work will not stop there.
“I’m really excited by all of the cleanups that we’re planning for the spring and the fall, for all the schools we’ve already been to and for all of the schools that are already on our schedule,” said Feldman. “I’d like to do more of that kind of work. I’d like to figure out different and better ways to be a resource to community-based organizations throughout the city. I’d like to figure out how we can grow our impact.”
In Feldman’s opinion, the act of keeping Philadelphia beautiful extends beyond the environmental landscape of the city.
“For me, it’s about civic engagement and feeling like a part of Philadelphia. One of the things I say to students whenever I’m in a classroom is how important it is to feel a part of the community around you,” expressed Feldman. “One of the benefits is that there are so many people who care about Philadelphia and love Philadelphia as much as I do, so to be a part of that work is really special.”
– Text and Images by Caitlin Cowan and Joanne Caruso