Students often think of Keene State College as its own entity, a sovereign nation surrounded by the greater city of Keene. It is easy to forget that students impact Keene, for better or worse, just as much as its permanent citizens. This fact was obvious to anyone driving through the streets of Keene Saturday, April 13, as college students and citizens alike picked up trash in a city-wide initiative called Green Up Keene.
Green Up Keene is an annual event hosted by the City of Keene that attempts to bring the entire community together in picking up the discarded trash that has built up after a long winter.
Since beginning back in 2008, Green Up Keene is still fairly new.
This year it was organized by Eric Swope of the Keene Department of Public Works and co-sponsored by Keene State College and Antioch University.
“Keene State [College] has been a really good partner for us for a number of reasons,” Swope said, “For one thing they provide us with a huge volunteer base. The biggest single group is from Keene State [College].”
Campus-based organizations contributed a large share of that student involvement.
Allison Riley, the liaison for the city of Keene and KSC, said, “We get a lot of athletic teams. We get Greek organizations. And then you occasionally get your individual student or two that stop by. The Eco-Rep group is always well represented.”
Daryl Hardisty, president of Tau Kappa Epsilon, a KSC fraternity, led a group down Water and Grove Streets. “This is our community,” Hardisty said, “We all have to look at this every day, and it represents us. Students walk these streets and so I’m sure part of the trash is theirs so it’s our responsibility to go out there and pick some of it up.”
Rey Rodriguez, a freshman, added, “If we don’t pick it up are we just going to wait for someone else to pick it up?”
Eco-Reps from KSC dedicated four hours of their time Saturday morning staffing a table outside of the Young Student Center where students could sign in, receive trash bags and gloves, and be dispatched to the areas of Keene that still needed to be picked up.
Samantha Gaudette, an Eco-Rep and KSC sophomore, explained, “Our general mission on campus as Eco-Reps is to promote sustainability through various programs in the dorm rooms and the common areas and we try to educate our peers on the benefits of recycling and being sustainable and getting involved in your community. So this is one of the things that lines right up with our values and our mission here at Keene State [College].”
Student participation was aided this year by professors at KSC. According to Swope, students in many science courses were asked to participate in Green Up Keene as a part of “No Impact Week,” in which the students attempted to make nothing but positive impacts on the environment for one full week.
Julia Janson and John Remmetter were picking their way down Emerald Court on Saturday as a part of their Principles in Sustainability course at KSC.
Janson, a junior at KSC, said their original date for clean-up was April 6, so many of them had already participated but “I think some of us decided to come back just because we enjoy being out here. We love the feel that some of the passerbys give us. We actually have people roll down their windows and say thank you, good job. It’s really motivating.”
Jessica Gagne Cloutier, community service coordinator for KSC, spoke of the importance of college students participating in an event like Green Up Keene. “I think sometimes it’s easy to think we’re Keene State [College] and then there’s Keene. But we’re so connected. So to have our students going out and helping to beautify the areas that they use, that they live in, I think is really really important. It shows there’s certainly camaraderie with the city that is so welcoming to us and all of our students.”
Riley admitted that student participation numbers were hard to gauge as not all students would sign in and some might pick up a trash bag from other places. “I’m very hopeful about this year because I think more people know about it,” Riley said, “I think the city has done a better job of coordinating it and so have we in terms of spreading the word. So I’m very hopeful that we’re going to have more than ever.”
Marketing for Green Up Keene this year included a banner in the Young Student Center, tweets from the community service office at KSC, e-mails to the entire campus, messages on MyKSC, posters across campus and the city marketing campaign.
While all of these things will help, Cloutier said, “I think what’s more successful is student to student conversations. If one student’s like ‘I’m doing that, you should come,’ I think that’s much more powerful than walking by a banner that’s been up for five days.”
Several local businesses were eager to join the initiative. Swope himself sported a Green Up Keene t-shirt, donated by The Mountain Corporation for the first 130 volunteers. The Works Bakery and Café contributed coffee and bagels.
Local convenience stores–including Jake’s Five Star Deli, Beaver Street Market and High Street Market–distributed trash bags and displayed signs encouraging their customers to clean up their neighborhoods.
Swope said that a few areas were being picked up by local churches and a handful of businesses in Keene–including C&S Wholesalers, Findings Inc., and Whitney Brothers–actually gave their employees time out of the work week to go out and pick up trash.
Cloutier summed up this sense of community perfectly, saying, “It’s such a nice event in terms of the entire community coming together for one kind of shared purpose, to do something that’s going to benefit all of us and keep our city looking welcoming and clean and sparkling as we go into the summer and see guest visitors coming and new folks coming to Keene State [College]. So I think it’s a really valuable event for all of us.”
Zach Pearson can can be contacted at email@example.com