NewtonSERVES, a city-wide cleanup, is set to return this year in a limited capacity at various Newton locations after having been called off last year because of the pandemic.
“It’s been around a long time in the city and it [has grown] more and more every year, pre-COVID,” Paula Gannon, director of Newton Cultural Development, said. “COVID kind of put it to a halt, but it’s been growing so much before COVID.”
Each spring since it began in 2000, the event provides an opportunity for people to get outside and spruce up Newton in a spring cleaning effort after winter, according to Gannon.
“It’s an opportunity to get outdoors, to have this spring, you know, sort of fresh air and flowers starting to bloom and grass turning green,” Gannon said. “And it’s the time when the city needs to be spruced up and cleaned up from the winter and dead leaves and dead trees and debris, and it really takes a lot of hands to be able to clean a lot of the open spaces that we have in the city.”
The city-wide clean up will take place on May 2 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., according to Blair Lesser Sullivan, the executive director of Newton Community Pride. Some projects will occur in either morning or afternoon sessions, while others will take the entire day, she said.
Recalling past years, Gannon said that after cleaning up the locations the city is changed in a day. She said there isn’t enough staffing to manage all of the city’s public spaces and the day of service contributes to this effort to maintain the city.
“From the city’s perspective we are so reliant and so grateful to residents who want to come forward and support all of that effort,” Gannon said. “And the other side of the people who do it who love to be participated in a project like that, that has such a ‘wow’ end result where you can see after a few hours the impact you’ve had in your little space.”
This year, there are 32 sites for the day of service, with 200 volunteers signed up, as of Friday. The goal is for 500 to 600 people to sign up, Sullivan said. Some of these sites include schools, the old Newton burial grounds, and Crystal Lake, Sullivan said. In past years, there have been 60 to 70 sites and over 1,000 volunteers, she said.
“Each site was looked at in terms of the space that the site has and what would be a safe number of volunteers to gather at that location, because every one is unique,” Sullivan said. “So each of those sites have its own specific number of volunteers that we’re allowing this year and once that is, once they’ve registered to that number then it’s closed and no more volunteers will be accepted.”
While NewtonSERVES is a Newton Community Pride event, Sullivan said that the organization partners with the city. NewtonSERVES registers volunteers and projects, and distributes t-shirts, while the city provides the supplies needed for the projects, according to Sullivan.
“It’s a lot of time and effort on the crew at the city, and we’re so grateful that we have the volunteers help us,” Gannon said. “So it’s a real partnership between the city, the residents, and Newton Community Pride, and it really is like a three legged stool.”
NewtonSERVES is one of many of Newton Community Pride’s efforts to beautify the city. Also this spring, the organization worked on Newton Al Fresco, an initiative started to create decorated outdoor dining spaces.
“Our mission is tiered in that we do arts and culture service and beautification,” Sullivan said. “So, to do this event it covers, you know, doing community service for the city as well as beautifying the city, so that’s … a huge reason why we’re involved.”
In past years, the event has featured indoor cleanups, like painting lockers in schools, according to Gannon, but because of the pandemic, the event will take place entirely outdoors this year in order to abide by COVID-19 restrictions.
Volunteers will be required to follow physical distancing requirements and bring their own gardening supplies to avoid sharing materials. In the past, gardening supplies such as shovels have been provided by Newton.
“We’ve had a tremendous response from volunteers so far, who are anxious to get out and continue this work in a safe way, [and] we’re really concerned about keeping it safe for everyone, for the volunteers, for us, and for the staff,” Sullivan said.
Interested volunteers can sign up for their desired site until April 21. The number of sign-up spots is limited and walk-ins will not be allowed. All volunteers must register individually, as opposed to registering in a group, which was allowed in prior years, Gannon said.
Volunteers typically consist of residents of all ages, and entire families show up to work on a site together, Sullivan said.
“It really runs the gamut of ages, and abilities, and numbers,” Sullivan said. “It’s just open to anyone and everyone.”
With the long-awaited return of the event, volunteers from previous years are looking forward to helping again, Gannon said.
“People are really excited that this year we’re emerging with it again, even though it’s a smaller capacity event,” Gannon said. “They’re still so grateful to be able to do something.”
Although the event returns this year with modifications, NewtonSERVES will bring back the sense of community, as volunteers work together to improve their city.
“It’s the community feel too, just being with others, and having that, you know, camaraderie, a new end, you know,” Sullivan said. “In a typical year, you get to meet people, too. I mean, this year they will but they’ll just be six feet apart.”
Featured Image by Julia Remick / Heights Editor