By Katie Sobiech
Have you ever wondered where the vibrant flowers and beautiful landscaping that decorates downtown Akron come from? Or who creates some of the beautiful, eye-capturing masterpieces that brighten the city? How does the city stay clean and sparkle?
“Most people just know us for the flowers we plant all around the city of Akron,” Jacqui Flaherty, Program Manager of Keep Akron Beautiful (KAB), said of the nonprofit 501c(3).
But planting flowers isn’t all that they do…
“Our mission is to improve Akron’s quality of life through beautification and responsible environment management,” Flaherty said of their work.
“There are many organizations just like us across the country and a lot of them in the state of Ohio, too,” she said in regards to their being part of the larger organization, Keep America Beautiful, Inc.
Taking Pride in the Community
Initiatives such as their Community Pride Trailer (CPT) have made huge strides here in Akron.
During their first season of operating the trailer it brought in 491 volunteers, totaling 3,433 volunteer hours. Ninety-one sites were cleaned, 116 bags of litter and debris was collected and it was used to plant 3 trees and 618 flowers/bulbs, as well as paint a house, a commercial building, and reduce graffiti from one site.
The CPT is available for loan to City of Akron residents and community volunteer groups free of charge.
“We started the program to take care of vacant lots and land, and as an attempt to spread urban beautification, and revive abandoned lots, making them spaces for people in the community,” Flaherty explained.
“It’s been huge for the local food movement,” she continued.
The trailer is stocked with landscaping tools and cleanup supplies to assist residents with removing debris and clearing vacant lots in Akron’s neighborhoods.
Their goal has been to revive vacant land so that abandoned lots become safe, appealing spaces where community gardens, playgrounds, and/or gathering green spaces can be developed by neighbors.
“We recently had Trinity United Church of Christ and the United Church of Christ on North Hill (use the trailer). They had about 15 volunteers with 180 hours and cleaned up the whole outside of their church and planted a community garden. The trailer has been very big with community gardening in the city,” Flaherty continued.
“Having pride in your city is definitely important. Over the summer I’ve gotten to see the effect that it’s actually had on people’s lives. I get to see the hard work that people put into things like the Community Pride Trailer and digging out the site. It’s nice to see it firsthand,” Helen Dauka, KAB intern from the University of Akron, said.
The trailer season ends October 29th of this year and start up again in April of 2013.
Adopt-A-Sites and Flowerscapes
Whether you are a church, small group, or individual, KAB has something for everyone.
Their Adopt-A-Sites allow different organizations to “adopt” different spaces around Akron to “beautify”. Groups can pick a site in the city which they will then be responsible for planting flowers and maintaining throughout the growing season.
The Flowerscapes program which began in 1982 plants over 26,000 flowers each year – and has spread like crazy.
“It’s all around the city – Lock 3 and a lot of different parks. Alexander Park is one of our biggest ones,” Flaherty said.
A large variety of plants can be found there, as well as a large water fountain, creating a beautiful, serene atmosphere.
Touching the Community
Every year, Beautification Awards, are given to citizens and businesses that have been noticed by someone in the community for taking the time to make their property look nice.
“We get lots and lots of cards every year, and thank you notes, just saying that the flowers really help these people and that they see the nice spaces that we do,” Flaherty said.
“One of my favorite stories is when a neighbor called to let me know that her elderly neighbor was sick and probably not going to make it through the next couple of weeks,” she continued.
“She was very worried about her yard, so she asked her daughter to work on it because she had won the Beautification Award for the past 25 years. She just wanted to make sure that her property still won. She had put a lot of effort into it and wanted to make sure that it continued with her and her neighborhood after she wasn’t here anymore. I thought that was really sweet,” Flaherty said.
KAB is always looking for volunteers as their needs change throughout the seasons.
During the summer, volunteers are sent out and kept busy in a variety of ways including planting and clean up.
Spring brings “Clean up Akron Week” and the “Great American Clean Up” where groups go out and pick up litter throughout the city.
Fall offers opportunities such as America Recycles Day and the Recycle Bowl.
“It reaches out to elementary, middle and high schools, which is kind of different – a different age group and demographic that we offer outreach to. And it’s educating them on recycling,” Dauka said.
Dauka says that working with KAP “Has been a great experience”.
“From an educational standpoint I’ve learned a lot. (KAB) is important for obvious reasons, like being green, you’re not littering, and you’re recycling,” she said.
For more information and to get involved with Keep Akron Beautiful, visit: http://www.keepakronbeautiful.org