When school lets out for the day, students have countless options when it comes to how they choose to spend their free time. For most, grabbing a trash bag and heading out to clean up the environment isn’t one of them, unless you are local fourth grader Connor James (C.J.) Young.
A student at Schultz Elementary in Delaware, C.J. said he wrote an essay about cleaning up the earth, which inspired him to do his part.
“I studied about the environment and just became interested in the earth and the oceans,” he said.
Over the past year or so, C.J. has made it his mission to clean up his neighborhood, mainly the wooded area along the walking trail at Veterans Park.
When the weather allows, C.J. heads out a couple times a week to pick up trash, which most of the time consists of plastic bags, paper, cups and metal cans. He added plastic bags tend to be the item he encounters the most.
As for the biggest item he’s pulled from the woods, C.J. said that would have to be a tent and some of its stakes that were left in the ground.
While he doesn’t keep track of all the trash he picks up, C.J. said his last bag weighed in at “just over 10 pounds.”
C.J.’s goal to help clean up the earth one piece of trash at a time has not gone unnoticed. After his grandmother, Cathy Merrell, sent out emails to various organizations to let them know about C.J.’s mission, the Keep Delaware County Beautiful Coalition reached out and invited him to the Delaware Public Health District office, where he was given a pair of heavier gloves, trash bags and a litter grabber.
“It means so much when residents take the initiative to clean up our community,” said Jenifer Way-Young, Keep Delaware County Beautiful coordinator. “It takes all of us to keep our community clean, whether you’re picking up litter like C.J. or preventing it by making sure you properly dispose of trash.”
“If you ever find trash, please pick it up because it really helps the environment,” C.J. added. “Every little piece of trash helps, even the smallest piece. So please help clean up.”
For county residents interested in helping clean up their neighborhood, Way-Young said they can follow in C.J.’s footsteps and pick up trash in their free time, organize a group cleanup event, or attend an upcoming spring cleanup event at the following locations: downtown Delaware during Main Street Delaware’s First Friday celebration on April 1, Delaware State Park from 10 a.m. to noon on April 9, downtown Delaware from 10 a.m. to noon on April 23, and Alum Creek State Park from 10 a.m. to noon on April 30.
Residents can contact Way-Young for supplies or information on how to organize their own cleanup event by emailing her at [email protected]
“We all have an opportunity to make a positive impact in our community,” Way-Young said. “After Keep America Beautiful completed a litter study in 2020, there are still 50 billion pieces of litter on the ground. If every American would pick up 152 pieces of that litter (and no more was added), our country would be litter free!”
As for C.J.’s plans moving forward, once he’s done cleaning up the wooded area around the pond at Veterans Park, he has plans to clean up another wooded area near his house. Also, according to his grandmother, C.J.’s cleanup efforts travel across state lines as he spends time picking up trash during family vacations to North Myrtle Beach in South Carolina.
Joshua Keeran is the managing editor of The Delaware Gazette. He can be reached at 740-413-0900.