Veterans, Boy Scouts Highlight Rainier Valley’s Day of Beautification

by Marcus Harrison Green

Though the street might have an ugly reputation as the city’s most dangerous for pedestrians, Rainier Avenue sparkled beautifully on Sunday afternoon.

South Seattle residents, from Mount Baker to Rainier Beach, spent the last day of April forming clean-up groups to mulch, weed, paint, collect litter and – in one case – jack hammer along the avenue and its adjoining thoroughfares, as part of the 9th annual Bridge-2-Beach community clean-up.

Typically taking place on the weekend following Earth Day, organizers held the event on a Sunday this year, a decision that may have temporarily stirred anxiety as volunteers armed with trash bags, rakes, shovels and litter pickers were initially met by a light drizzle Sunday morning. Thankfully, the clouds soon broke for sunshine and the weather remained pleasant the rest of the day. 

The early morning mist didn’t faze Rainier Beach’s Scout Troop 008, participating in Bridge 2 Beach for the first time as part of their community service project.

“One of our pillars in scouting is service to the community and it’s a great opportunity for these guys to really obtain a deeper understanding of that,” said Marcus Charles, an adult scout leader, after Troop 008 finished picking up trash at Mapes Creek Walkway behind the Rainier Beach Safeway.

Marcus Charles (right) assist a scout from Rainier Beach Troop 008 with picking up trash. (Photo: Michael Charles)

According to head scout master Adrian Cowens, the cleaning of the walkway, which begins in back of the Rainier Beach Safeway and empties out on Henderson street in front of Rainier Beach High School’s track, also provided a sense of community ownership in his young scouts.

“It’s important that our kids understand how to be leaders inside of our community. I want our kids to be proud to be from Rainier Valley when they talk to anybody else who lives in any other part of the city. But it’s not enough to just come from here, you also have to help the community you live in out,” says Cowens, fresh from debriefing with his scouts in front of the Rainer Beach Community Center as they dismissed for the day.

Cowens, who is a Columbia City resident, said it was also important for community members to see Rainier Valley youth engaged in positive activities, as they unfairly receive a good deal of negative press.

For their adult counterparts, the day was once again a time to take care of their neighborhood from the forces of Mother Nature.

“It’s amazing how tenacious nature can be,” said David Sauvion of Rainier Beach, using a shovel to clear out weeds from cracks in the sidewalk on the corner of Rainier Avenue and Rose Street while his daughter Eleanor carried uprooted dandelions to a yellow trash bag.

Sauvion, was one of dozens working around Rose Street alone on Sunday afternoon, with long-time residents eager to chip in to make their neighborhood a little cleaner.

“My husband grew up in the neighborhood and as we got older we just realized how important it is to continue to make our area even nicer. I’ve seen it improve over the last 20 years,” said Seattle Police Department Sgt. Heidi Tuttle, who brought along her entire group from the South Precinct’s Community Police Team.

A collaboration between community groups such as the Rainier Beach Community Club, the Rainier Beach Merchants Association, the Rainier Chamber, and city departments including the Department of Neighborhoods and Seattle Public Utilities, the event continues picking up more local participants, a testament to its continuity according to Barb Biondo.

“B2B has been around long enough that people know about it. Even if they’re not directly involved in planning or volunteering they see it happen wherever they go. They might plant a seed for them to do it next year,” said Barb Biondo dapped in an orange caution vest and heavy duty gardening gloves, who along with her wife Jen, helped apply mulch to freshly weeded public right-of-ways.

Biondo said this year also allowed for people who might not have been too keen on manual labor, as her group’s beautification project also included residents going door to door to hand out informational pamphlets written in 7 languages, including Somali, on continued neighborhood improvement efforts and how to be involved.

While sustaining community improvement efforts like Sunday’s are important to those embedded in the area, they were also top of mind to those visiting on the day.

“We don’t just want to parachute in the area. We really want to have a sustained presence. A lot of times a company comes in, brings a whole bunch of employees one time, and then they’re gone,” said Doug Pfeffer, the Seattle City Impact Manager with The Mission Continues, outside of the Ethiopian Community Center.

As Pfeffer spoke, his voice competed with the jackhammering  members of his Veterans job placement and community service group were conducting a few feet away to extract steel bolts from a parking space in the Center’s lot, remnants from a long-ago removed LED marquee sign.

Sunday was simply the latest project Pfeffer’s group, which matches veterans with community volunteer opportunities, has assisted the center with during the past few months.

The Mission Continues will also be planting a Veteran tech guru at the center for the next year who will teach visitors how to code.

Overall, the group has spent the last year and a half in the South End volunteering to construct walkway linings, paint businesses, and rebuild play spaces.

“We want to be a part of long term solutions and not just short term. It’s not about just coming in for a quick project. It’s about a sustained effort over time,” says Pfeffer.

With hundreds of residents participating in a total of more than 30 group projects sprawling throughout South East Seattle this year, B2B organizers are indeed hopeful community involvement in neighborhood clean ups will have no trouble enduring.

MHG ColorMarcus Harrison Green, is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of the South Seattle Emerald, the current scholar-in-residence at Town Hall Seattle, a former Reporting Fellow with YES! Magazine, a past- board member of the Western Washington Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and a recipient of Crosscut’s Courage Award for Culture. He currently resides in the Rainier Beach neighborhood and can be found on Twitter @mhgreen3000