Volunteer Experiences From this Year’s Grand River Clean Up

Trash cleaned out of the Grand River in Walker. Photo: Andy Anisko (facebook)

Contributing writers: Karie Schulenburg and Tricia Glaser

The Grand River is enjoyed by the entire city, so it wasn’t surprising to find individuals citizens and local families helping out, in addition to the organizations that brought representatives.

Jerry Duron, from Sand Lake, comes to Grand Rapids regularly to fish in the river. “My biggest catch from the Grand was a 25 pound salmon! Most fishermen really want the river cleaned up,” he said, as he looked over at the volunteers plucking refuse from its banks. He was in support of the event, but he wanted to give a warning to everyone to watch out for stray tackle!

Cindy Hicks and her two daughters Celeste, age 13 and Celia, age 2, found out about the event through Facebook. Cindy mentioned the ease of having Celia in a stroller and Celeste gave the event two thumbs up.

Leslie Iglesis, a new Grand Rapids resident, heard about the clean up on MLive and decided to go because it seemed like a great idea. She had never volunteered with or heard of WMEAC before Saturday.

Another local resident, who just returned to the area mentioned she heard about the event from a poster in the library. She came because she’s always been interested in environmental issues and thinks everyone should volunteer with something. She left Grand Rapids in 1999; she said since then the city has “really tidied up.”

Several joggers, the brisk air probably stinging their lungs, paused in their Saturday morning run to thank the Grand River Clean Up volunteers as they tidied up the river. “Thank you! We appreciate all your hard work!” they called over their shoulders.

Students from Calvin College, Aquinas University, Grand Valley State, and the entire Men’s Basketball team from Davenport University also came in support of their city and their river.

The Grand Rapids Young Professionals represented the largest group of volunteers and were mostly responsible for cleaning the downtown river location. The company has been involved with the event since it started eight years ago. Heather Baldwin, who is on GRYP’s Community Involvement Committee, said this is the first year she attended the clean up. “I’m concerned about the environment, so I came to clean it up. It’s so nice to see the community in action, all helping out today.”

Many Grand Rapids companies contributed to the event including the Center for Inquiry (CFI) and Black & Veatch. CFI cleared about a dozen trash bags alone. Black & Veatch is an engineering, consultation, and construction company focused on reliable and sustainable solutions to improve the community’s quality of life. They have been a part of this event for four years now. Dave Koch, head of B & V’s Grand Rapids offices, came with his four year old daughter, Stephanie, who searched the sidewalk along the river while her father scoured the riverside rocks.

Guiding Light Mission volunteers proudly pose with their haul.

“It is a great opportunity to give back and I want to come back next year,” said Eric Davis representing the Guiding Light Mission. Guiding Light provides a support system for men and opportunities to re-engage their community, opportunities like the Grand River Clean Up. Members of the Guiding Light Mission were some of the most enthusiastic in the crowd and were amongst the volunteers who removed a mattress and two car tires from the riverside.

Stefan from the Sunday Football League said that they’d been wanting to be more involved in the community, and they really enjoyed the clean up.  It was the first time they’d heard of WMEAC and had an opportunity to volunteer with us.

The Grand Rapids Young Professional’s facebook page was where Onawa Gardiner of the Cook Leadership Academy (part of the Hauenstein Center) heard of the event. She said that they decided to come to the clean up because they also wanted to be more involved with the community and that this was the first volunteer event of the school year.

The general consensus of the volunteers, both families and larger groups, was that they enjoyed cleaning up the river, are proud of the effort the community put forth and are excited to return next year.


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