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Clean neighborhood, clean slate?

October 27, 2013

by Ariana Wilson

More than 350 students from the state University at Albany gathered Sunday to engage in a yearly neighborhood cleanup of the Pine Hills.  The students picked up everything from leaves to trash in an effort to improve the living conditions for both residents and students.

Coordinators of the event typically expect about 100 students to turnout, but this year the numbers more than exceeded the expectation. The dry, sunny weather may have contributed to the numbers, with only wind hampering conditions for the community service project.

Two UAlbany students help set a post straight at “Pine Hills Cleanup 2013″ on Partridge Street.
Two UAlbany students help set a post straight at “Pine Hills Cleanup 2013″ on Partridge Street.

The Pine Hills Cleanup 2013 began at noon at Ridgefield Park at Myrtle Avenue and Partridge Street. A number of campus groups including athletes, fraternities, and sororities were involved in the cleanup, according to Thomas Gebhardt, director of personal safety and off-campus affairs at the university police department.

Rakes, shovels, garbage bags and gloves were loaned to the students free of charge by the city’s Department of General Services, Gebhardt said. Students worked in the blocks bordered on the south side by Myrtle, to the east on Lake Avenue, north to Washington Avenue, and west to South Main.

Students filled trash bags and left the garbage at nearby receptacles for city pickup.

The university has developed an incentive for students to complete community service hours and earn the change to win a trip to Camp Dippikill, an 850-acre wilderness retreat in the Adirondacks owned by the university’s Student Association. Students can camp, hike, canoe, and participate in a number of outdoor activities. In addition to trying to win  a trip, students participate in the cleanup to give back to the neighborhood where thousands of college students have stayed over the years.

“We live here too, and we care too,” said Billy Shields, a University student and fraternity member of Zeta Beta Tau.  “We are tired of the fact that we are the stereotype for the bad stuff that happens in this area.”

A group of UAlbany students rake leaves off of the sidewalk on Partridge Street.

A group of UAlbany students rake leaves off of the sidewalk on Partridge Street.

Unlike Shields some of the students decided to go out to the cleanup just because they thought it would be an enjoyable experience.  UAlbany Freshman Jackie Belle and Jen Baran said they saw posters in their residence hall advertising the event.

Gebhardt has been involved with the cleanup for the past 10 years, even when the cleanups were not a yearly event. Now the UAlbany student association, University at Albany, and Pine Hills association team up one time each semester tidy up. The three groups have planned a date each fall and spring semester for the past five years according to Gebhardt.  Even though he has not lived directly in the Pine Hills, Gebhardt, a UAlbany graduate, is an active community member and attends many of the Pine Hills meetings.

The new acting president at the school, Robert J. Jones, has asked  the student body to be more active with community service, said Rose Avellino, a junior at UAlbany and director of outreach and engagement.

“College is not just academics,” Avellino said.  After three years in the student association, and two years on the Outreach and Engagement board, Avellino is familiar with the university’s community service activities in the city.

The student association does more than just clean up the neighborhood.  Group members volunteer their time to the Ronald McDonald House, Habitat for Humanity, and the suicide prevention walk that takes place on the UAlbany campus each year.  They also volunteer their time to work with Albany High School and Hackett Middle School to inform students that there are options out there beyond secondary schooling said Avellino. UAlbany calls this its ‘Student to Student Initiative’ and is not just used to support colleges and universities in the Albany area.  Instead it serves the purpose of supporting higher education in general, Avellino said.

A group of students cleaning up on Morris Street.

Pine Hills residents were more than welcome to attend the event as well, although the advertising was not done quite as vigorously in the neighborhood as it was on campus.

Resident Corrie Aldrich was a bit perplexed when all the students came through the neighborhood. “I was like ‘Where are all these college kids going,’” said Aldrich, who lives at Partridge and Morris streets. She would liked to have volunteered at the event had she known it was taking place. She recommended that maybe there should have been fliers distributed throughout the neighborhood in order to get residents more involved. Either way, she said, “It’s good to see people going out and doing something.”

Avellino hopes to improve the event next year by including more cleanup equipment and developing a more effective method for registration.  Overall the cleanup was a success, she said.

“It’s good to see so many community service groups today to help,” said Toni Hines, a member of the Delta Phi Epsilon Sorority. “We really just want to help the community.” -30-


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