By Jon Orbach
Large crowds of volunteers from College Park and nearby cities gathered in and around the College Park Community Center April 1, marking it as the sixth annual Good Neighbor Day with the largest turnout to date.
“We easily doubled our numbers from last year,” said Sarah D’Alexader, the Community Engagement Coordinator at the University of Maryland. “This year, we really set a high goal, and we wanted to get 500 volunteers out here. And today right now, we have calculated 611 registered volunteers through the community centers.” According to D’Alexander, there were 340 registered volunteers last year.
The four-and-a-half-hour event, which, according to its website, was a “collaborative partnership between the University of Maryland, the City of College Park, the Prince George’s County Department of the Environment, and the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission,” kept busy from start to finish.
Volunteers chose from 13 primarily environmental projects to be stationed at, including cleaning up Lake Artemesia, planting shrubs at Cherokee Lane Elementary School, planting turtleheads outside the Xfinity Center, working on food drive logistics and helping out around the community center.
College Park Scholars Coordinator Jeany Cadet was happy she and her daughter were able to help make a difference.
“It feels good to be able to do something for someone else and sacrificing your own time and your weekend to be able to serve your community,” she said. “For those who can’t serve themselves at the moment, I think it’s great.”
Echoing Cadet’s sentiments, Greg Rea — the Volunteer Team Leader at Lake Artemesia — expressed his pleasure with this opportunity to help out.
“You can hug a tree a little bit, which is always a nice thing,” Rea said. “My son is with me, so it’s a good way to lead by example.”
The opportunity was not without preparation. Luis Alfonzo, a horticulturalist at the University of Maryland and one of the leaders of the Cherokee Lane Project, explained the preliminary process.
“We spent 70 hours before today [Saturday] preparing, removing dead plants — removing, organizing, cleaning, edging, blowing,” he said. “We are going to see the difference before and after.”
To Alfonzo, the day was a success.
“Everything’s getting better and better, and it’s going to continue,” Alfonzo said. “You need to go to Cherokee Lane and see the difference.”
Junior chemical engineering major Ryan Ghosh, who helped clean Lake Artemesia with service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega, heaped his support onto the event as well.
“It’s been fun. They have a lot of cool events,” Ghosh said. “I got some free stuff, [and I] met a lot of people here,” he said. “I didn’t realize they had this great event that brought out so many different groups on campus together to do service.”
While Ghosh expected to enjoy his day, there was one happening that he did not predict.
“I was helping out with a group picking up trash along the stream, and midway through the project, we a found a body,” Ghosh said. “People were in the stream, and they had special pants on so they could wait in the stream and pick up trash, and one of the girls — she saw a shoe — and she went to reach for the shoe, and it turned out there was a leg on the shoe.”
Once the volunteers returned from their respective projects, they gathered for lunch in the center’s cafeteria, with tables for nearby park, environment clubs, community organization groups and sponsors riding the room’s outlines.
With loud music, a social media contest, guest speakers and a room full of hungry volunteers, the room was noticeably lively.
College Park Mayor Patrick Wojahn, one of the guest speakers, capped off the day with his words of support.
“This is amazing, and I’m so happy to see so many people out here,” he said to the room. ” I love this event because it really brings together people from the community.”
Wojahn, who participated in the 5k Park Run, wanted the event to be memorable for all.
“Hopefully you’ll remember this forever,” he said. “You can come back and see the trees that you’ve planted and see the creeks that you helped clean up and the areas where you helped endangered species and think you really contributed in helping to make College Park a better place.”