This Tradition is 'In the Bag!'
"Paint the Town Green" to send hundreds into neighborhoods for semiannual cleanup
University Public Affairs
For the fifth time, VCU students, faculty, staff and alumni will roll up their sleeves, put on their gloves and go to work this Saturday, cleaning up trash from neighborhoods near both campuses as part of “Paint the Town Green.”
Hundreds of members of the VCU community will join neighbors and soldiers this Saturday as part of the semiannual event. Participants should meet in Monroe Park at 8:30 a.m. After a light breakfast, volunteers will be divided into teams and move into the neighborhoods to begin the cleanup.
“’Paint the Town Green’ came out of the realization that we wanted to engage our students to show them what being a good neighbor means and at the same time encourage our neighbors to interact with students,” said Ron Brown, neighborhood outreach director, Carver-VCU Partnership.
The first “Paint the Town Green” in 2010 attracted about 80 volunteers. This year, organizers expect 600 to meet in Monroe Park and move out into the Fan, Carver, Oregon Hill, Randolph, Jackson Ward, Union Hill and Mosby communities.
“We’ve had high hopes for this effort from the start,” Brown said. “And this year, ’Paint the Town Green’ is truly realizing its potential.”
The event is a success because it draws heavily on student involvement. And representatives of the VCU Student Government Association, fraternities and sororities, VCU ASPiRE, Green Unity 4 VCU and other student groups will participate again on Saturday.
“I live in the Carver neighborhood and I’ll be cleaning up in Carver,” said Joseph Quesenberry, director of external affairs for the VCU Student Government Association. “I’ll get to meet my neighbors and we’ll all have pride in our neighborhood.”
Associations in the various neighborhoods typically sponsor pizza parties, barbecues and other informal social gatherings when the work is done, providing a casual and relaxing opportunity for longtime residents and student neighbors to get acquainted.
“It’s good to get to know our neighbors and build a better relationship,” Quesenberry said.
And Brown added that the social interaction can have surprising results.
“During one of the pizza parties, some students stayed around to find out what makes the neighbors so passionate about the place they call home,” Brown said. “And a student received an internship offer solely because of the interaction. That wouldn’t have happened if the student and the neighbor hadn’t gotten to know each other.”
Getting to know the neighbors was also an essential role for students in this semester’s “Management 319” course, a service-learning organizational behavior class. Five sections of the course, more than 240 students in all, have formed teams with managers, senior managers and executive leaders to organize and lead “Paint the Town Green.”
“Students are going into the neighborhoods, talking to residents and asking them ‘what do you need?’ and ‘how can we help you?’” said Randy Sleeth, Ph.D., associate professor of management In the School of Business, who is teaching the course along with adjunct instructor Manika Avasthi.
“These projects enable wonderful collaboration among my students as project managers, the community and other student groups,” Sleeth said. “Through this course, students are learning an enormous amount. They’re learning planning skills, leadership and negotiating skills, and other people skills.”
Sleeth said the students also are documenting their work and providing metrics to illustrate the project’s impact.
“And the students will be able to show that they are bringing things to life. This is not a simulation. This is not pretend. It is not a mock project,” Sleeth said. “Can you imagine the portfolio that they’ll be able to share with potential employers? Other students can say ’I know what to do.’ Our students can say ‘I’ve done it.’”
The course has already had an impact on “Paint the Town Green.” Last spring, students in the course recruited and organized busloads of Fort Lee soldiers to participate in the effort.
Soldiers also will participate in next week’s event.
Hilton Bennett was instrumental in managing last spring’s “Paint the Town Green” through the course. He and other students are participating as senior executives in the fall version through “Management 491,” a topics class.
“The reason I returned to this project was due to the fulfillment I felt in being able to take part in an effort such as this to connect the community residents to the students here at VCU,” said Bennett.
Bennett said participating in the management of this event has opened his eyes to the conflicts, joys and realities that come with leadership.
“What I have learned most through the 319 MGMT course and through the 491 Topics course is that management requires active participation, no manager is capable of preforming every task or duty on their own. Also, that inspiring others is required, and central to seeing a project through to completion,” said Bennett. “Further that there are many styles of management and a good manager is capable of using many different styles in order to relate to everyone.”
The additional staffing for the current “Paint the Town Green” is timely because the effort has expanded to include the cleanup of seven parks in the Fan neighborhood.
“The Fan District Association had planned a cleanup of the parks on Oct. 6 but they realized delaying their cleanup by a week would allow them to join our effort and allow our volunteers to help,” Brown said. “I am excited about the possibilities of this collaboration. This event should be a huge success.”
The green theme also is expanding at Carver Elementary School, where representatives of VCU’s Physical Plant are helping the school refurbish and reopen its greenhouse.
“Carver Elementary is a focal point in the neighborhood,” Brown said. “We’re planting flowers, mulching and edging as part of our efforts there.”
And as the flowers grow, organizers are confident relationships will bloom between VCU and residents of the surrounding communities.
In addition to the VCU Student Government Association, “Paint the Town Green” is sponsored by VCU’s Division of Community Engagement, Green Unity 4 VCU, the VCU Police Department, the Management 319 course, the City of Richmond Department of Public Works and the civic associations from each of the neighborhoods.
There’s still time to volunteer. Contact Ron Brown at (804) 827-1904 for details.
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