May 26, 2017
By Jeff Helms
Grayson and Leigh Ann Henneke learn lessons about service while improving the beauty of their community through volunteering for the McCalla Spring Cleanup.
Picking up trash along the road isn’t most kids’ idea of fun, but for Grayson Henneke and mother Leigh Ann, the Don’t Drop It On Alabama Spring Cleanup has become family tradition.
“It makes me feel good that I did something good for the community,” Grayson said. “Even though you don’t want to wake up in the morning, once you get out here and get to know people, it’s pretty fun.”
Leigh Ann, who was among about 70 volunteers at the McCalla community cleanup in Jefferson County, said she’s proud her son is learning the value of service.
“It’s not just about keeping the community clean, making it look nice for everybody. It’s also about teaching my children about giving back and being part of a bigger community,” she said.
The Hennekes aren’t alone. Across the state, more than 20,000 people each year help keep Alabama beautiful by participating in Spring Cleanup and other anti-littering programs of Alabama PALS — or People Against a Littered State.
PALS Executive Director Spencer Ryan said the organization distributed 180,000 trash bags to cleanups in 65 counties this year. Those bags represent potentially 1,500 tons of litter and $8.5 million in savings for Alabama. Ryan said the Jefferson County Commission and Storm Water Management Team have developed a volunteer network rivaling any in the nation.
“They are a dynamic group of people,” he said. “In three short years, they’ve gone from 20 cleanups to over 60 this year. That’s the kind of volunteerism you see with PALS statewide.”
Rick House coordinates cleanups in the McCalla and McAdory communities. Like other PALS volunteers, he said it’s not a job; it’s his passion.
“It just became such an eyesore to me,” he said. “After moving out here in 2005, I started noticing the roadsides were very littered. I thought that somebody needed to do something about all this. And one day, I just decided that someone is going to be me.”
Jefferson County Commissioner President Jimmy Stephens said more than 1,000 volunteers are involved in cleanups across the county.
“This means our citizens are taking ownership and are being part of a team to clean up Jefferson County once and for all,” he said. “There are 2,200 miles of roads in Jefferson County. It would be impossible without the help of our citizens to keep those roads clean.”
Other Alabama PALS efforts include Adopt-A-Mile, Adopt-A-Stream and the Clean Campus program, sponsored by Alfa Insurance and Alabama Farmers Cooperative.
PALS partners with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Coastal Division to sponsor the Alabama Coastal Cleanup the third Saturday of September. More than 6,000 volunteers are expected to participate in the 30th Coastal Cleanup this year.
Their efforts will benefit the environment and economy, but Leigh Anne said the personal rewards are even greater.
“It’s about recognizing everything is not about me,” she said. “It’s not just me in the world. I’m part of a bigger community.”
For more information or to volunteer, visit alpals.org.