The City of Athens and Ohio University’s Athens Beautification Day made its return this month following an almost-three-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic and inclement weather. This year, however, the one-day event has morphed into a month-long project.
Sam Crowl, associate director of sustainability and Athens City Councilman, D-3rd Ward, said Beautification Day began years ago as a combined effort between the city and university to find projects that people could volunteer to partake in during one day.
Barb Harrison, assistant director for the center for community engagement, said she has been involved in Beautification Day for at least ten years. In years past, OU’s Student Senate organized the event, she said. Following the senate's time hosting the events, the community service leadership council organized the day, which Harrison advised from 2012-2020.
Before the pandemic, Harrison said the community service leadership council was considering changing the event to a month-long initiative.
“We realized it's really hard if people can't volunteer on just that one day, and it's hard for community organizations,” Harrison said. “That's why this year the calendar is different, and we think it'll have a better impact because students can choose, or community members, to volunteer when it's convenient for them.”
Crowl said the Office of Sustainability is usually not involved in Beautification Day, but as the center for campus and community engagement looked for a way to start the project up again, they contacted him for his expertise as both a campus representative and a councilman.
In his role, Crowl has been tasked with organizing and leading service projects this year. In planning those events, Crowl reached out to community members for input on what they wanted to see “beautified” in their neighborhoods or Athens.
“I found mainly concerned citizens who are bothered by things in their neighborhoods on a daily basis,” Crowl said. “They get out and they go for a walk and they see maybe a large area of litter.”
Crowl said a student suggested a Hocking River clean-up event.
“The city would not be anywhere near as interesting, valuable, diverse and exciting were the university not here, so I really encourage students to see the community,” Crowl said. “The more they realize they're living in this very unique and special place, the more connected they are to the community. I think it'll serve them better in their lives going forward.”
Students can receive community service or volunteer credit for attending the events, Harrison said.
“Many students have requirements for service within scholarships or majors, that kind of thing,” Harrison said. “We know that in April every year students who still need to get those completed are looking for projects.”
So far, around seven events have been held, including the uptown waste and recycling bin cleanup, the Hocking River sweep and the Currier Street bikeway cleanup. Every Wednesday in April there is also an event to landscape and plant flowers at Emeriti Park from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.
The last event, a cleanup of Fern Valley, will take place on April 23.