Some needy areas of Tampa got a much-needed cleanup Saturday with the help of some USF students and Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio.
The initiative is part of a beautification program, which Saturday morning focused on cleaning up Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard between Interstate 275 and 40th Street, as well as areas along 22nd, 29th and 34th streets.
The program is a non-governmental, not-for-profit community development organization that has been in effect since 1989. USF’s Student Government sent a group of students which represented various organizations such as Volunteer USF and the fraternity Sigma Phi Epsilon.
“We’re really trying to shed some sort of light on the positive aspects of volunteering by kicking off with the Mayor’s Beautification Program,” said Jarrod Ali, attorney general of SG.
Ali sported his green USF polo shirt underneath a workman’s vest while picking up trash with other USF student volunteers along 22nd Street. Some were in charge of trash pickup while others mowed, blowed or edged the grass. Volunteers working on the MLK medians were in charge of mulching and replanting. City of Tampa employees supervised the volunteers.
“I’m here to make sure they stay safe and stay hydrated,” said Kathy Beck, a City of Tampa employee supervising the group from USF.
After almost three hours of cleaning up the streets of East Tampa, the volunteers gathered at 18th Avenue Park and Playground for a picnic and commemoration ceremony given by Iorio.
“It tops off all the day’s work that’s gone on,” said Ross Ferlita, director of City of Tampa Parks and Recreation.
The park and playground sit in a neighborhood where some people sit in old chairs and play cards on old tables set up in lawns. They sit in a neighborhood where the paint is peeling from most of the houses. Yet, signs of improvement are seen in driveways where new model cars sit, and in houses where the pride of the tenants are seen in their upkeep.
“I think this effort to beautify this part of Tampa, which is a concentrated poverty area, is a good part on the mayor’s behalf,” said Otis Coliny, director of Multicultural Affairs for SG. “This area is often neglected, basically always neglected. Areas such as Channelside are always well kept. I think this kind of effort should always go on in all these parts of Tampa to keep it beautiful because the environment plays a role on the people’s minds.”
Coliny learned of the opportunity in one of his classes, while others learned of the initiative through churches and recreational centers. Sponsors such as the Center for Disease Control of Tampa and The Heart of Tampa also provided volunteers.
The volunteers, along with children from the neighborhood, donned shirts that read, “I’m Committed to East Tampa” while eating hot dogs and chips or talking to the mayor.
“I’m just thrilled with everyone coming out today,” said Iorio.
Iorio talked with residents of the neighborhood as well as volunteers of the initiative. She spent some time chatting with one neighborhood child under an umbrella, and with another child about his aspirations to be president. She later planted a tree donated by the Department of Parks and Recreation to commemorate the event.
“We’re trying to show how we can make a difference in one part of our community that needs help when we work on getting the drug dealers out, when we bring in code enforcement and do something about people who don’t take care of properties, and when we can go in and with volunteers beautify,” Iorio said. “It’s all collectively, over time, going to make a difference.”
Iorio, in conjunction with Tampa Police, just wrapped up Operation Commitment, an East Tampa project to cleanup the quality of life in East Tampa.