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New Community Clean Up Campaign Forms In Maywood 

Volunteers clean up the Maywood Peace Garden in Maywood on Saturday, the last day of Earth Month.  Many of them are with the nonprofit Clean Up – Give Back. | Michael Romain 

Sunday, May 1, 2022 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews 

Last year, Maywood native Verneka Smith decided she had had enough of driving past mounds of trash strewn along the expressway ramp on 1st and Harrison in Maywood on her way to work in Berkeley. So, she rounded up some volunteers and coordinated a cleanup. 

A year later, Smith is doubling down on her cleanup efforts. On Saturday, she and a group of volunteers were cleaning up the Maywood Peace Garden at the corner of 17th Avenue and Madison Street in Maywood. 

The event was supposed to be part of the village’s annual Village Pride, Village Wide cleanup effort, but heavy rains and strong winds prompted organizers to reschedule the village event until May 14. 

Smith, however, was undeterred, insisting that her small cleanup effort continue. In the garden, Smith was joined by Donna Adam, the president of Clean Up – Give Back, a nonprofit based in Des Plaines that facilitates trash cleanup campaigns around the Chicago area. 

Verneka Smith, left, and Donna Adam. Smith founded the Maywood chapter of Clean Up – Give Back earlier this year. | Michael Romain 

“We do cleanup campaigns for any groups that want to do a cleanup,” Adam said. “Last year, we had like 86 small and large cleanups and Maywood was one of them. We cleaned a lot at 17th Avenue and Maywood Drive, at the park, and I think we got over 1,000 pounds of trash over there. That’s when I met Verneka and finally her chapter is just getting started.” 

Smith said she formed the Maywood chapter of Clean Up – Give Back after rounding up three Maywood residents to be on the chapter’s board. The chapter’s three board members include Barbara Cole, the founder of Maywood Youth Mentoring and the force behind the Peace Garden; along with Maywood residents Shawnda Steer and Deborah Flemister. 

Volunteers spruce up the Maywood Peace Garden in Maywood on Saturday. | Michael Romain 

Smith said she’s also been able to recruit volunteers to join her burgeoning chapter, whose first official cleanup event was last week near the expressway ramp at 17th Avenue and Harrison Street. So far, the Maywood chapter of Clean Up – Give Back is the first and only one in Proviso Township, Adam said. There’s also a chapter in nearby Oak Park. 

“People are reaching out to me from the internet to do community service work,” Smith said. “Right now, we’re making sure we do at least one cleanup a month in the community. I want to set it up so that residents can reach out as well, if their block needs to be cleaned. We can go out and focus on their block.” 

Adam said the cleanup groups are even more than helping keep the environment clean, they’re also about building social bonds. 

“When you’re out working with people cleaning up you get to build friendships,” she said. “We’re trying to build community.” 

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