U students

Nathan Whalen

Van Cleve Park is a cleaner place thanks to some enterprising middle school students.
A neighborhood trash cleanup, wheelbarrow races, planting flowers and making pud — a snack made of peanut butter, oatmeal and honey –were some of the events the students did as the University YMCA recognized National Youth Service Day, and kicked off Earth Week on Saturday at Van Cleve Park.
The cleanup started at 2 p.m. when the children were divided into three groups. One of the groups started picking up trash in the neighborhood. Another began painting pots, planting flowers in them and then making the unusual snack.
The last group learned how to pitch tents. Then competed on who could pitch the tent fastest and had a backpack relay.
“We also wanted this to have an environment topic to kick off Earth Week,” said Jason Smith, coordinator for the YMCA’s Environmental Backpack Program, a program that educates University students on the outdoors and environment.
Smith said the pud, the tents and the backpack relay were all part of the “eco-challenge,” which was supposed to add an environmental flavor to the proceedings.
The group of kids who started the trash pickup filled five large trash bags.
There was time for fun as wheelbarrow races commenced; some students made human pyramids. Others met kids from different schools and many hung out in the tents after they were set up.
“I got to meet new people and put up a tent. They usually have something fun,” said 11-year-old Hannah Felix, from Lincoln Elementary School.
The groups rotated so that everyone could do all of the activities.
“They were excited just to get to the University area,” said Sara Testen, co-coordinator for Fresh Force and a College of Human Ecology senior. Fresh Force is a group of University students who go into various middle schools and community centers and form a student group that focuses on community service activities.
The trash pickup was also part of Fresh Force’s quarterly community service project where all of the groups get together for a large project. Last quarter, the groups did a food drive.
A picnic followed the event, consisting of the children’s families with the goal of getting more people interested in community service, said Katie Jalma, co-coordinator of Fresh Force.
The YMCA’s Earth Service Corps also helped with the cleanup and activities.