by Sarah Corn
Rainier Beach streets, sidewalks, and neighbors received lots of loving care over the weekend as part of the 10th annual Bridge to Beach Southeast Seattle Community Cleanup.
Around 80 volunteers and city employees joined forces to weed, paint, mulch, and pick up litter together along South Henderson Street and Rainier Avenue South Saturday morning, May 12.
Before heading to their work sites, participants mingled over coffee and donuts in the Rainier Beach Community Center Plaza. Long-time residents, recent arrivals, and visiting helpers alike exchanged hugs and introductions.
Community resident and Seattle Neighborhood Group team member Mahogany Villars felt a sense of stewardship, guiding a group of volunteer litter-pickers down the same streets she grew up playing in with her cousins.
“There’s no greater joy or pride,” Villars said. “It’s an honor.”
Working side-by-side with a childhood friend, she picked up cigarette butts, beer cans, and other detritus along South Henderson Street near the fields where they once played soccer.
As they walked, Villars bounced between leading group cheers and greeting passers-by. To her, the day was as much about reconnecting with her community as it was cleaning up trash.
“Just loving people,” she said. “That’s the awesome part. That’s what draws me to something like this.”
Despite all the positive energy, the satisfaction Villars feels from the work is bittersweet. With housing prices as they are, she has no idea how long she’ll be around to enjoy the results.
“It’s just a matter of time before I’m forced to move out,” she said.
Villars chose to focus instead on the experiences of those children still living in the neighborhood, to give her motivation.
“I want to make sure that when they walk down these streets,” she said, “they’re not seeing all the stuff we’ve been picking up.”
Jana Dilley, Supervisor for Trees for Seattle, helped another group of volunteers tend the trees lining the north side of South Henderson Street, between South 46th Street and the Chief Sealth Trail.
Street trees are special for residential neighborhoods, in particular, Dilley explained.
They support local environments by cleaning water runoff, storing carbon, and removing particulates from the air. In the summer, their shade keeps the city pavement from overheating.
But her favorite street tree benefits are their contributions to social cohesion and public health.
According to Dilley, neighborhood trees reduce stress and respiratory illnesses. Tree-lined streets encourage residents to go for a walk and get to know their neighbors. The dappled lighting effect from tree leaves slows down drivers, leading to fewer accidents.
Dilley couldn’t remember if this was her third or fourth time participating in the annual cleanup at Rainier Beach. She always enjoys coming back.
“I love to see all these neighbors who really care about the area,” Dilley said.
Jenny Frankl, project coordinator for Seattle Neighborhood Group, also lives in the neighborhood. She has been organizing Rainier Beach’s Bridge to Beach projects since 2014, and said this year was her favorite.
“The weather was amazing,” Frankl said. “That really helped.”
More so than in previous years, Frankl said this weekend really felt like the neighborhood coming together. Her favorite moment of the day was watching two old childhood friends reconnect as volunteers and spend the afternoon reminiscing.
“It felt like community love,” Frankl said.
She expressed her gratitude to everyone who contributed to the day’s work, present and not, through donations of labor, time, materials, money, food, and support.
The Four Corners litter cleanup and tree care in Rainier Beach were just two of the dozens of community cleanup projects scattered throughout Rainier Valley on, all part of weekend-long Bridge to Beach event.
Susan Davis, Executive Director of event-sponsor the Rainier Chamber Foundation, stopped in to say hello and grab a hot dog at the after-party barbeque. She has coordinated the south end-wide weekend since she first came up with the name 10 years ago.
Davis takes pride in the progress made by groups that return year after year. One spot she visited near Hitt’s Hill Park used to be a notorious dumping ground for mattresses and couches.
“Now that they’ve been doing this every year,” Davis said, “there’s much less dumping because people see that it’s a cared-for space.”