This is one of many stories from a wide variety of sources and a multitude of forms contributed by people upon request for my 70th birthday. They will be posted without editing, with the attribution that was with them. I will be posting these regularly until they run out next year sometime: if you have others to add, please send them to me.
PICKING UP THE TRASH
By Eileen Howard
I’d like to introduce you to Allen and Ken. Allen lost his job and so he and his partner Ken ended up buying a house on the “wrong side” of Parsons Avenue on the Columbus South side. The East side of Parsons is an area known for high crime and low incomes. Allen decided that he was not going to live in a trashy neighborhood. So.. he did something about it.
Allen and Ken have started a revolution in their neighborhood by doing one simple thing: Picking up trash.
Every day Allen spends part of his day walking through his neighborhood picking up trash. When he first started doing so, people thought he was a little crazy. Then they started asking him why he picked up trash. He would share with them his vision for a safe clean neighborhood. Before long, other people also picked up trash or at least didn’t throw it on the street.
Allen and Ken and some other concerned neighbors started the Ganther’s Place Garden Club and Block Watch. Allen and Ken transformed the empty lot next to their house into a spectacular “pocket park” with community art, a greenhouse, green space, flowers and benches.
Then, the drug dealers started noticing that the people who lived around there cared about their neighborhood and they moved their operation.
Now Ganther’s Place has two pocket parks with a gazebo stage, beautification efforts throughout the streets, annual garden tours and an arts festival, a large colorful mural at the entrance to their neighborhood, cleaner and safer streets, a gardening program with the local elementary school, and many other successes. They have spearheaded a larger effort, in partnership with Keep Columbus Beautiful, to put flower planters up and down Parsons Avenue and hold community cleanups twice a year.
And it all started with picking up trash – an effort that required no money, no organization, and only one person.
One great story from this effort concerns a missing tree. Allen had bought two trees to plant in the pocket park. He went outside and one was missing. He followed the trail of dirt down to a house and banged on the door. The woman who answered said she didn’t know anything about it. Allen pointed out the tree was in her back yard. Her grandson had apparently taken it.
Allen carried it back to his house. The next day it went missing again. Allen was really steamed now, and he went back down and banged on the door. This time the grandson was home. Allen made the teen carry it back and help plant it. He asked him, “Why did you take the tree?” The boy replied, “It was nice, and I wanted to have nice trees and shade at my house, too.”
Allen then went and bought the boy a tree and took it down to their house. Since then, that teenager has been involved in other efforts by Ganther’s Place and he and Allen are friends.
This story delights me because it shows how returning evil with good can be transformative. It also shows how we can start with just our own resources and assets and end up transforming the world. And, according to Allen, even losing your job can turn out to be your greatest asset.