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Teaming up to keep community clean
Property owners, volunteers both benefit from neighborhood cleanup
Riverside Military Academy cadet Trey Hunter, 18, rakes leaves Saturday at a house on Cooley Drive as part of an effort to clean up the neighborhood and assist elderly or disabled homeowners. - photo by SARA GUEVARA
More than 150 cadets from Riverside Military Academy teamed up with Habitat for Humanity and Hall County Code Enforcement to rake leaves, pick up trash and haul items out of the yards of homeowners in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Gainesville Saturday morning.

Johnny Varner, commander for American Legion Post 328, said Saturday’s project was to clean up the neighborhood and help property owners.

Varner said for the Riverside cadets and the Boy Scout Troop 15, events like the cleanup help build camaraderie for the young men.

Riverside cadet Zane Rotruck, 17, chose to participate because he wanted to give back to the community. He said such events help teach him responsibility.

Hall County Commissioner Ashley Bell said the goal for Saturday was to continue the neighborhood revitalization efforts, which have been in effect since Brown Street opened and work was done on the crumbling road.

“We decided to go street by street and clean up the Morningside Heights neighborhood,” Bell said. “We have seen a tremendous amount of voluntary compliance since we started this, and this is the combination of several months of work.”

Volunteers are down to the last few spots that need assistance. However, there are a few places that are holding the volunteers back because homeowners have refused assistance.

“Some folks just don’t want to clean up their property,” Bell said. “But these are one or two properties out of hundreds that have complied.”

Those who do not comply will be written a ticket, which Bell said is OK because they are giving property owners a chance to comply.

“We’re bringing in Riverside Military Academy to volunteer, we’re bringing in all of these other organizations, and we’re going to the doors of people who won’t comply and saying, ‘if you don’t want to clean it up, we will clean it up for you,’” Bell said.

Bell thinks that it is invaluable for young people, such as the cadets, to start investing in their communities.

“The city motto is ‘life in the city,’” Bell said. “Life in the city should be just as good for a kid playing on the street at Riverside as it is for a kid playing on Black Drive.”

Bell said the only way this is going to happen is if people realize that we are one community.

Kristen Reed, 20, a Brenau University student and member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, was volunteering with some of her sorority sisters. She said it is important for young people to participate in community service projects because it builds character and teaches them respect.

“We are helping people who can’t get out and do it themselves or it would be difficult for them to do it themselves,” Reed said.

Marquese Jackson, 17, a student at Gainesville High School, said there is a lot of trash around the area that needs to be cleaned up.

“It puts the church in a dirty environment, and it won’t be appealing to everyone else to come to a neighborhood that looks like that,” Jackson said.

Jackson thinks it is important for young people to get involved in community events because “it keeps them out of trouble.”

“If they’re helping out in the environment, that is doing good for the environment as well as doing good for them,” Jackson said.