EARTH DAY: PITCHING IN

Posted: Sunday, April 26, 2015 12:15 am - By Lisa Kashinsky lkashinsky@eagletribune.com

LAWRENCE — For Lawrence resident Sarai Concepcion and her 8-year-old daughter, Michelle Delacruz, cleaning up Campagnone Common on Saturday was both a bonding experience and a chance to better their community.

“It starts from family and education and the first thing we need to do is educate our kids so we can have a better planet,” Concepcion said.

Concepcion and Delacruz were among the estimated 2,000 volunteers who fanned out to nearly 30 sites throughout the city Saturday morning as part of Comcast Cares Day, officials said. The yearly event is staged by Comcast and Groundwork Lawrence with the support of Mayor Daniel Rivera.

“This is more than just about cleanup,” Rivera said. “This is about a culture change in how we keep our city clean and how we present our city.”

Heather McMann, executive director of Groundwork Lawrence, said her organization has been doing work in the community for Earth Day since 2004, and began partnering with Comcast six years ago.

Comcast Cares Day is about stewardship, she said.

“It's about celebrating the environment, taking care of it locally, and working with the community,” McMann said.

A lot of the focus of the day was on removing debris from the city's parks after the tough winter, as well as cleaning up vacant lots that often become places for illegal dumping, she said.

Volunteers included residents, Comcast employees, city workers, police and fire department members, and the Department of Public Works, Rivera said.

“If we can keep Lawrence clean together, we can do anything together,” Rivera said.

At the North Common, Yesenia Gil, executive director of Bread & Roses Housing, an organization that provides home ownership opportunities for low-income families, led a group of volunteers including Concepcion and her daughter. The group started cleaning Common Street and then moved into the park, raking up leaves and picking up fallen tree branches.

“You can't make up for the sense of community they have volunteering,” Gil said. “They feel great when they give back to their community.”

Concepcion said Comcast Cares Day empowered children and families to pitch in and help make their community cleaner.

“We want our kids to be able to come to our parks,” she said. “Sometimes we just don't want to or we prefer to go to the other cities where their parks might be a little better.”

Delacruz said she enjoyed giving back to her community and making friends in the process.

Over at the Bruce School Park, about 30 volunteers, including residents, members of the police department including the chief, city employees and the city planner, filled dozens of bags with leaves and branches, according to Maggie Super Church, a resident and the site coordinator.

While Saturday's efforts focused on removing debris from the winter, she said she hoped efforts would continue to improve parking, lighting and safety in the area.

Kiriza Zihalirwa, who moved to Lawrence last year, said he participated in Comcast Cares Day at Bruce School Park so he could, “leave a better Lawrence for our children.”

“I was really happy to see this was around,” he said. “For me, this is kind of a first step and I believe that we can do more with the support of Comcast and other businesses.”

Part of this year's Comcast Cares Day was a groundbreaking for a new Habitat for Humanity build on Phillips Street, which will provide housing for two veterans' families through partnership with the Veterans Northeast Outreach Center, Inc.

The project fits into the outreach center's goal of finding housing for veterans, John Ratka, the executive director, said.

“It's a start, it's part of a portfolio of housing we have here,” he said, adding, “This is our first couple of home ownership projects.”

Randy Larson, executive director for Merrimack Valley Habitat for Humanity, said the project was the first of what he hoped would be many builds for veterans. The build should take around 18 months to complete, and the families that are selected for the housing will help in its construction, he said.

“We want this to be the model so veterans' organizations are comfortable going forward and working with Habitat,” Larson said.

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