Special to the Herald | @krisdvp
This article was first published in Central Connecticut State Universityâ€™s student newspaper, The Recorder, and is being republished in the Herald with The Recorderâ€™s permission.
NEW BRITAIN - Keeping with its theme of connectedness, Central Connecticut State University joined the North-Oak Revitalization Zone early Saturday morning to clean up New Britainâ€™s streets and hear from residents.
â€śWe are a community engagement university. That means we use our expertise, our resources and our people to help our community,â€ť President Zulma Toro said. She said it is her second or third time participating in this type of event. â€śThe way the area looks after the cleanup is definitely something we can point to as making a difference in the community.â€ť
In addition to CCSU and the NRZ, residents from surrounding towns and New Britain Police Department officers came to take part in the 12th annual cleanup. Police Chief James Wardwell said the departmentâ€™s involvement was important in keeping a strong relationship with the cityâ€™s people.
â€śThis is a true partnership with the community. Itâ€™s us shoulder-to-shoulder doing everything we can to make our neighborhoods better,â€ť Wardwell explained.
After a small breakfast, volunteers pulled on gloves, grabbed rakes and opened up trash bags, breaking off into groups to tackle the streets of New Britainâ€™s North-Oak section. Spencer Levesque, a CCSU junior studying business management and member of Phi Delta Theta, came with other fraternity members to participate.
â€śWe do a lot of community service and community engagement. Every Saturday, we do different things. Weâ€™re very involved with our community on-campus and off-campus,â€ť Levesque said, adding that just the week before, Phi Delta Theta participated in an annual homelessness walk.
Centralâ€™s Lambda Alpha Upsilon fraternity also made an appearance, with chapter President Aaron Sanchez proud of the work the fraternity does. As a New Britain native, Sanchez tries to â€śgive back as much as possibleâ€ť to the city he calls home.
â€śIt feels good to give back, especially when you can see peopleâ€™s reactions. Itâ€™s just an unreal experience. It becomes addicting,â€ť Sanchez said. â€śIf you donâ€™t have anything to live for, (giving back) gives you something to live for because youâ€™re making changes in other peopleâ€™s lives.â€ť
Jazlyne Sanchez, a CCSU senior majoring in criminology, has lived in different parts of New Britain for five years. She said that seeing the difference in cleanliness between the area around Centralâ€™s campus and other neighborhoods made her want to come out, along with being a member of CCSUâ€™s Habitat for Humanity Club.
â€śNext to school, they have a lot more resources, so I feel like that area is nicer, but yeah, (other areas need cleaning),â€ť she said.
Eva Magnuszewski, president pro tempore of New Britainâ€™s Common Council and a CCSU graduate, was thrilled to see so many students at the cleanup, explaining that she enjoyed seeing young people do volunteer work.
â€śI love seeing community effort being put in to beautify neighborhoods and all the positive things that have started happening here. (CCSU) is doing a great job being involved,â€ť Magnuszewski said.
The groups made their way up their assigned routes, raking and picking up everything from empty coffee cups to, at one point, a heroin needle. Omar Ghannam, who led a group up Union Street and whose mother, Yvette Ghannam, is the NRZâ€™s secretary, said heâ€™s glad to take such things off the asphalt; heâ€™s been doing so since he was five years old.
â€śItâ€™s nice to come through and feel like youâ€™re making a difference. Civic duty is something I value and feeling like I contribute to the world. I look for (civic duty) while volunteering,â€ť he said.
CCSU counselor, education graduate student and New Britain native Cynthia Mena was also happy to volunteer, saying she knew firsthand how residents didnâ€™t really clean up after themselves even though, Mena believed, they should.
â€śEngaging in the community and cleaning it up is creating a more positive atmosphere for everyone. When a person sees trash, they donâ€™t pick it up and add more trash, but maybe if they see us taking care of our community and picking up the trash, maybe theyâ€™ll think they should start taking care of the place they live in,â€ť Mena commented.
Jonathan Jepson, a part-time CCSU student, was of the same sentiment.
â€śWhy would you just have trash outside of your house and not pick it up? But I guess part of it is they donâ€™t have a place to put it,â€ť Jepson said. Magnuszewski interjected, saying that residents needed more convenient dumpsters to throw their trash into.
As the cleanup progressed, residents stopped to express their appreciation for the volunteers, with one woman even braking in the middle of the road to speak with the group on the sidewalk. While walking her dogs, Sandra Picard, who lives on Putnam Street, paused to thank the volunteers for the cleanup, elaborating that she was always worried her dogs could get hurt.
â€śEvery time I turn around, [one of my dogs] has a bottle in his mouth. Iâ€™ve got to be really careful because of the glass. There a lot of drug baggies and stuff like that, too,â€ť Picard said.
By the end, NRZ President Marie Bachand said that the police department had counted more than 100 bags of trash and that over 70 volunteers had participated.
â€śWe have people taking responsibility for their neighborhood, which is what weâ€™re trying to teach people,â€ť Bachand said. â€śItâ€™s awesome.â€ť
Kristina Vakhman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.