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Clad in neon yellow vests, scores of students from three South Side schools committed themselves to beautifying the community, all in honor of Earth Day, and to kick of a Litter Free Zone Initiative.

Helping to make the neighborhood a more eco-friendly place, about 100 students swarmed on Winneconna Park on 78th Street, between Vincennes and Fielding, to collect trash, promote recycling near the park and its waterway, the Auburn Lakes.

“We are here to promote litter prevention, recycling, energy and water conservation and to do a little landscaping with mulch provided by the city,” said Carlos Nelson, executive director of the Greater Auburn- Gresham Development Corp.

The GAGD recruited the students from Betty Shabazz International Charter School, Perspectives- Calumet High School and Simeon Career Academy to help make Earth Day more than just an annual event. Aside from helping out the South Side neighborhood, the students were urged by the group to give back to their communities.

“The bigger picture is to have them take what they’ve learned and start a recycling program in their home, on their block and in the own neighborhoods,” Linda Johnson of GAGD said. Spreading the word and getting others involved is exactly what one student aimed for, but her efforts produced small results.

Still, she remains encouraged that more will come aboard. “There are so many things you can do to help your community. Picking up trash may be a small thing, but it’s the small things that really count.

I tried to get about eight of my friends to join me, but once you tell someone that they will have to clean, it doesn’t sound as fun. Only one of my friends came through for me,” said Ashley Coleman, a senior at Simeon.

It’s the fervor that the 18-year-old has that reminds Ald. Latasha Thomas (17th) why it’s important to get children involved in making the quality of life better in all neighborhoods. “As the chair of the City Council’s Education Committee, I’m always enthused to see our youth getting involved. They learn to give back and respect and cherish the work they’ve done in their community,” Thomas said.

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