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Why I Sweep: The big impact on my community

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As a longtime Westchester resident, I first became involved with Riverkeeper nearly a decade ago seeking an opportunity to get involved in environmental advocacy. Riverkeeper had moved their headquarters into my backyard. The timing was perfect, and I helped launch the Riverkeeper’s first Sweep clean-up seven years ago.  The River had been a backdrop to my community, but I wasn’t engaged in its vitality, and I had no idea that the Hudson even needed advocacy. But I quickly learned how fragile the Hudson River is and the importance of Riverkeeper’s work. I found it to be an organization excited to partner with individuals, small local groups, communities, as well as mid-size and large institutions to work for a healthy Hudson River.

For the last 6-years, each spring I’ve led Sweeps in Ossining, coordinating projects on the Ossining Waterfront and the Sing Sing Kill with residents (including many Ossining students) and even non-residents across the age spectrum. It’s an amazing way to feel a sense of community in coming together to show our gratitude both to Riverkeeper and their efforts, but also to our Hudson. Sweep is an opportunity to teach important lessons to our children about human impact on the planet. It’s clear that when you get kids involved in the clean-up — even at a young age — they know that they’re doing something positive. They get excited knowing that they’ve made an impact, all while having fun outside.

Since we began the Sweep at Engel Park in Ossining, there seems to be a lot less garbage; the physical warts from the beach there are pretty much gone. As a community, we’re understanding that the damage has been done by humans, and we know that the clean-up has to be by us as well. It’s become a source of pride.

As a community member, I chair Green Ossining, a local organization dedicated to promoting sustainable behaviors and environmentalism in greater Ossining. Each year, often two weeks before Sweep, we host an Earth Day Festival at our waterfront park drawing nearly 4,000 visitors on our community’s shoreline for a zero-waste celebration of our earth and Hudson River.

Riverbanks are natural community focal points and gathering spaces, and there is no place more fitting to celebrate the natural world and learn ways to lessen our environmental impact than along the shoreline of the Hudson River. Our festival is zero-waste to draw deliberate attention to the detrimental impacts of single-use items on our waterways and environment. We have zero waste stations positioned across the festival staffed with local girl scouts who educate attendees on recycling and composting. It is our goal to educate festival goers to leave the festival thinking more about their consumption of single-use items and properly disposing of trash, recycling, and compost in their homes, offices, and community spaces.

Our efforts to reduce trash in our community and in the Hudson River also extends to a new partnership between Green Ossining, Riverkeeper, and the Village of Ossining to stencil the storm drains in the village. Storm drains on our streets often lead directly to our waterways and contribute to marine debris and pollution in the Hudson River. The stenciling project aims to connect street-level behaviors like littering with the downstream impacts on our waterways. We’re excited to be kicking off our storm drain stenciling project on Saturday, May 5 as one of our Sweep projects.

Sweep has become more than a fun community cleanup day, it’s grown into an opportunity for education, and to inspire advocacy and lifestyle changes. Participating in Sweep can become a starting point for individuals to think more deeply about their impacts on their community and waterways.

 

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