By Alena Rosen, AFF Communications Coordinator
I have had the privilege of coordinating the Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup for the past three years. During this time, I have had the opportunity to collaborate and talk with hundreds of site leaders, partner organizations, and volunteers. One of my favorite parts of these conversations is hearing their “stories of why”: why they originally got involved, why they are passionate about trash, and why, in many cases, they continue their efforts throughout the year.
Through listening to these stories, I get to hear the passion of these community leaders as they work to protect their neighborhoods, local waterways, and parks. I hear about how an individual picking up trash in their local stream sparked a conversation with neighbors about the public hazard of trash, which led to the creation of a community volunteer organization dedicated to eradicating trash in their sub-watershed and regular community cleanups. I hear about a volunteer who had originally been dragged to a cleanup by a friend and went on to adopt her own site and lead year-round cleanups for the past decade because she had been surprised and disgusted by the volume of trash at the cleanup site. I hear about a partner organization that uses cleanups to motivate environmental activism by showing their volunteers that they can make a tangible difference in the environment. I hear about a cleanup participant who works tirelessly for solutions to the litter problem in their community and use cleanups as public education platforms.
Each of the “why stories” I listen to, demonstrate the power cleanups have to create a positive change in individual actions, strengthen communities, and protect the environment. These whys allow the Annual Potomac Watershed Cleanup to be the catalyst for change that it has become, because each why leads to an area of our watershed that is being tended to by a steward who will in turn create an experience for a future generation whys.
If you are interested in sharing your “why” to inspire others, email potomaccleanup@