Fed up with lakefront trash, fifth-graders join forces to give Port beach, harbor a caring touch
The Port Washington lakefront has been looking a little cleaner lately, thanks to the efforts of three fifth-graders at Thomas Jefferson Middle School and their friends.
Frustrated by the mess that greeted them when they headed to the beach and harbor to feed the ducks and hang out, Johannah Mueller, Amanda Kissinger and Caitlyn Mersereau have organized the Port Harbor Cleaning Crew.
They and eight of their classmates have been meeting every Tuesday for three weeks, spending about 45 minutes to tidy the lakefront — and have fun.
“Usually, every weekend I go to the harbor with my grandma. We noticed there was a lot of trash accumulated, and some dead animals,” Caitlyn said. “I felt that maybe if we got rid of the trash, it would help.”
“We hang out there,” Johannah said. “We like to watch the ducks and feed them.”
The girls agreed they needed to do something about the mess at the lakefront. They collected trash themselves, but realized that the more people who participated, the greater their impact would be.
“We thought if they did it, they would bring other kids,” Amanda said, and the effort would be contagious.
“I felt sad because they (the fish and animals) live in that environment. We’re doing this for the environment and the community and the ducks, and we’re having fun.”
“We love the ducks,” Caitlyn said.
So one night, while having a sleepover, they created the cleaning crew. The girls drew up a set of rules, created fliers to advertise their group, wrote up permission slips for their fellow crew members to get signed by parents, and put together a schedule.
They talked to Principal Arlan Galarowicz about the concept. He reviewed their plans, gave his blessing to the effort and they then announced the club to their classmates.
They didn’t open it up to the entire fifth grade or the school right away, the girls said, because they feared that if the group got too large, the students might get too rambunctious.
The group meets at 4:45 p.m. Tuesdays at the bandshell, then heads out to clean up until 5:30 p.m. Each week they have an itinerary.
The first week, they tackled the north beach. The group filled seven smaller, grocery-store sized bags and one larger garbage bag.
The following week, they headed to the harbor. They emptied their bags in the garbage cans, then filled them again, estimating they removed about 20 bags of trash.
“We ran out of bags,” said Johannah’s mom, Kim, who accompanied the group.
This week, weather forced them to cancel their session, but they plan to expand their efforts to the downtown next week, taking the historic walking tour to learn more about their community while cleaning it. They will close their season May 25 with a pizza party.
The group’s findings range from the mundane — cans, bottles and plastic bags, which the girls said can take 1,000 years to disintegrate — to the more unusual, such as a single flip flop and half a toy gun.
They’ve found a wooden pallet, lots of shoes and gloves, lighters, matches and a Frisbee, as well as a pile of tiles.
“The people got really mad about that,” Amanda said.
They’ve also found a lot of cigarette butts, they said.
“People need to know cigarette butts are trash,” Johannah’s mother said.
Make no mistake — they may be young, but they’re serious about their mission.
“That one lady littered right in front of me,” Caitlyn said indignantly.
The rules the girls have drawn up for the group are simple, but effective. Cell phones aren’t allowed to be used unless there’s an emergency, and even then their use must be cleared with one of the leaders.
The members are to wear gloves at all times.
“If anyone sees a dead animal, they should talk to Amanda,” Johannah said.
Amanda explained, “My mom’s a funeral director. I don’t say ‘Yuck’ and run away.”
If they find glass, they are to talk to Caitlyn.
“I think glass is pretty,” Caitlyn said.
And anyone finds nests or eggs, they’re to consult with Johannah, who’s particularly interested in wildlife.
“Don’t disturb them,” she said.
The first time they cleaned up, they discovered a nest with a broken egg and trash, something the girls said made them very sad.
When they’re done with an area, they try to remind people not to trash it. When they cleaned the north beach, Caitlyn said, they wrote “Don’t litter” in the sand and “Save the Earth” on a log.
They’re considering asking the city to place a recycling bin at the beach.
While the idea of cleaning up may not be exciting to some people, these young people make it fun. The sound of giggles is a constant companion.
Caitlyn said she’s asked others how they like the club.
“They said, ‘I like it. I loved it. I can’t wait until next week,’” she said.
And the people who have seen them working are just as appreciative, they said.
“We got a lot of good comments from people, a lot of thank yous,” Johannah said.
Although the group plans to take a break over summer, they will probably start up again in fall, the girls said.
After all, Caitlyn explained, “It looked a lot different when we were done.”
THE PORT HARBOR CLEANING CREW, a group of fifth-graders from Thomas Jefferson Middle School, have made it their mission to clean up the city’s lakefront. Last week, the group tackled the shoreline near the breakwater and harbor (top photo). Amanda Kissinger (at right in top photo and in inset photo) collected not just trash but a decomposing fish. Photos by Sam Arendt