Fight litter, join (or host) a community cleanup

Volunteers lined up to clean up litter
Parish Proud has facilitated 70 beautification events in 2022, more than half of which were initiated by community members. Photo by Meredith Hanks

It’s easy to complain about the amount of trash littering the ground in Lafayette. Now thanks to Parish Proud, it’s almost just as easy to do something about it.

The nonprofit, founded to help improve Lafayette’s physical appearance, hosts cleanups in public spaces, such as Girard Park. But that’s only the beginning. According to Parish Proud’s strategic officer, Chuck LaGrange, these events serve as catalysts to help empower a new wave of community-led activism.

“We created the visibility,” says LaGrange. After volunteering at a cleanup, he says, people understand: “They’re going to give me the vest, the pickers, the bags and I can do it.”

By raising awareness—and connecting people with the tools to organize their own cleanups—Parish Proud can make an even bigger impact.

Disclosure: Parish Proud has made financial contributions to Straight News Online. Read our conflict of interest policy.

Brianne Hendricks, with Parish Proud, helps facilitate those connections. She hears from at least one person a week asking for supplies or for help organizing a cleanup. According to Hendricks, the organization facilitated 70 beautification events in 2022, more than half of which were initiated by community members. She estimates these volunteer efforts alone have translated into $152,000-worth of improvements.

The magic, Hendricks says, is in the ripple effect.

“For every piece of litter that’s picked up, you’ve instantly made it less likely that someone is going to litter there in the future,” says Hendricks.

Interested in organizing your own clean up? Here’s how others have made it happen.

In your neighborhood

Judy Mahtook lives across the street from Girard Park and exercises there regularly. She spent about a year noticing the need for improvements, especially around the pond.

“The more I walked, the more I realized things that needed to be spruced up, but I didn’t know how to go about it,” says Mahtook.

When a connection she had through Junior League of Lafayette told her about Parish Proud’s Girard Park project, she seized the opportunity. Mahtook joined the planning committee and helped identify areas of the park that needed improvement. She also gathered email addresses of neighbors and invited them to the Parish Proud Day clean up.

“People were really excited,” says Mahtook. “They planted the seed in community members’ minds. They showed us a blueprint of what a difference a small group of people can make.”

Mahtook is working to organize more neighborhood efforts in Girard Park. She’s hoping to get in a routine of two or three “spruce ups” each year—keeping it fun, with an open invitation for coffee at her house afterwards.

She says she’s grateful to Parish Proud for connecting her with LCG’s parks department. Now, she can work with their team to enhance ongoing beautification projects. Mahtook says that relationship helped her to better understand their challenges, and how her neighborhood’s help can make a difference.

“Look at my yard and what it takes, and it’s a small personal yard,” says Mahtook. When you multiply that times the size of Girard Park and how many parks are in the city, you realize how much they have to do.”

With your organization

As the current president of the Epsilon Beta chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha at UL Lafayette, Jamillia McKinley sees cleanups as a natural extension of the sorority’s mission to enhance their environment.

“What better way to take accountability for our local community?” she says. “Our community is campus. Lafayette gives to us, and we need to take responsibility and give back to it.”

After signing up as a team for Parish Proud Day at Girard Park, McKinley led her sorority to organize their own clean up at UL. The group sent invitations to their campus community to participate. She says it couldn’t have been easier.

“They supply everything you need. The only thing that person would have to do is supply the people,” says McKinely. “You have to take that leap of faith and make it happen.”

For yourself

Mary Hays, the owner of Geaux Run in the Oil Center says picking up litter is an important part of her daily routine.

“I try every day a little bit, even if it’s just a few pieces of trash,” she says. “Some days I’ll go out for an hour and a half.”

Hays volunteers with Parish Proud when she can, but most of the time, she says she’s on her own picking up trash near her home or store. She also began using social media to raise awareness and inspire others to join in on their own time. For her 60th birthday, she posted a message to her friends on Facebook, asking them to take pictures of themselves picking up trash. The results inspired her.

“I loved it,” she says. “They got their kids out there. Making kids aware that litter is not OK—to see it and to notice.”

Hays hopes that by continuing to do her part to clean up and instill this value in the next generation, Lafayette will feel like a more welcoming place.

“I love Lafayette,” she says. “I was born here. I moved away, and I’m back. I hope that people clean up the city.”