NewtonSERVES 2011: Picking Up Butts One at a Time

I’ve lived in Newton, Massachusetts since 1990, and worked here since 1991. But, until yesterday I’d never participated in NewtonSERVES, “A Day of Community Service”. Like most people I’d always had a number of excuses/reasons for not participating—family commitments; not in the city that day; too many other things going on; just didn’t want to do it; blah, blah, blah.

But, this year was different. I decided weeks in advance that I was going to participate, and, as the City’s website said “rain or shine”, I was determined to show up and do my part. Luckily, hundreds of brave volunteers and I weren’t deterred by the weather. We’ve been in the midst of a horribly wet spring and yesterday didn’t disappoint the ducks. I forgot to register in advance and upon arrival was told I could pick from tasks for any of 50 non-profit organizations or City of Newton departments that needed my help. Being an avid bike rider, I opted to do bike trail maintenance in Auburndale, one of Newton’s 13 villages.

So, what is “bike trail maintenance” you might ask? It’s more aptly described as “trash pickup” but if they called it that, who would do it, especially on a cold, wet day? Fortunately, five hearty souls, agreed to take on the task. Led by Nathan Phillips, an Associate Professor, Geography and Environment at BU and Vice President of Bike Newton, we each got our black garbage bags and simple instructions: “Pick up whatever litter you see and put in the bag. We’ll collect them at the end.”

We traipsed along the trail starting off Commonwealth Avenue and ending at Auburndale Cove for 4 hours. The rain came down steadily for the entire day and with temperatures in the 50s, we had to keep moving. If I had a dime for every cigarette but I picked up, I would have been rich. Who knew there were so many butts and so much litter until you’re scouring the earth looking for them?

We all got soaked in the spring rain, picked up a lot of litter, and mugged for a group photo. And, best of all, we got to return to City Hall for free bright yellow T-shirts and hot fudge sundaes from Cabot’s Ice Cream, a Newton institution. With the people I met, the T-shirt, and ice cream, I’ll be back next year. And, if I can get my act together ahead of time, I’ll bring people from TRA360 to join me too.