Unique idea: earn donations by working
Gary Chamberlain couldn't believe what he was seeing. And it seemed everywhere he went, it was always the same thing.
Trash of all kinds littered alongside highways and interstates in his native Arizona. Everything from pieces of blown out tires to bottles and cans to old torn clothing. Chamberlain's seen it out there and now he's on a mission to get it all cleaned up.
"As an avid cyclist I could not ride anywhere without seeing trash along a road," said Chamberlain, 66.
Finally Chamberlain took matters into his own hands. He got a bunch of big trash bags and went out to clean up parts of roadsides near his town. It was this simple action of cleaning up trash that sprung an idea he has taken with him around the country to states including Arizona, Montana, Utah and Idaho.
After working on the idea for the last four years, Chamberlain said he has seen a lot of growth behind the initiative. Businesses have donated materials including large trash bags, trash grabbers and other materials to help do what is necessary to get the trash along roads cleaned up. And by keeping things clean, Chamberlain explained, businesses can benefit from the work being done.
"As people drive through a community and they see trash littered all over the place, do you think they would want to stop there or possibly vacation there?" Chamberlain said. "I'll go to businesses in a community, pitch them the idea and do the work for them while getting funding from them later."
Chamberlain works as the "Point Man" with Folksville USA, a group that works to restore the beauty to America's highways and honoring Armed Forces, veterans and communities. He has helped organize groups to go out and help pick up trash in areas that most need to be cleaned. While there are signs along roadways notifying passersby of groups or organizations that are responsible for cleaning portions of the roadways, Chamberlain said the Adopt-a-Highway program may need to be fixed.
"The program is broken in Arizona," Chamberlain explained. "Some folks down there don't want to admit there might be a problem with trash along the highways."
Under the Adopt-A-Highway program in Utah, groups who have entered into an agreement to clean certain areas of highways "shall clean the litter from the indicated section of roadway at least three times per year for the duration of the contract period, which shall be a minimum of two years." Groups work with Utah Department of Transportation to come up with clean-up days or UDOT will assign days for the groups to go out and clean-up, according to the Adopt-A-Highway section listed on the UDOT website.
Chamberlain said the groups who go out and clean-up the highways generally do a good job and don't get the credit they deserve when they do good work. But in Chamberlain's mind, there is still much more that can be done to help out.
"It takes no more than 15 minutes to go out and fill up a bag full of trash," he said. "Doing things like this can help people to take a little more pride in their country and develop a better appreciation for learning to work and make money."
Working with businesses in areas he sees with lots of trash along highways has been a major boon to his work, Chamberlain said. And with so many groups and organizations looking for donations from businesses for fundraisers and other projects, Chamberlain said instead of businesses just giving out the money, they could request those groups and organizations go out and clean-up highways.
Alan Peterson, owner of Peterson Chemical & Janitorial Inc., said he would be supportive of a project such as the highway clean-up that helps give back to the community instead of just giving a free handout to anyone asking for it.
"I like the idea of helping give back and having a lot of pride in the local community," said Peterson, who said he gets as many three requests for donations and handouts a week.
While he often has to turn away people who come to him requesting donations, Peterson said going door-to-door asking for money and not giving anything back for it is something that needs to change.
"It's definitely a mindset that people have which needs to change," Peterson explained. "A person could go pick up trash along the highway and we'll sponsor them to do it, instead of just giving away money. It helps people, especially youth, to learn to serve and help make things better in the community."
Chamberlain estimates he has raised over $4,000 from businesses in areas he has traveled to while working on the project. During his travels, Chamberlain said he will stop along highways with lots of trash around and spend a few minutes filling large 33 gallon trash bags. He said he charges $10 per bag of highway trash that he personally collects. He said he conducts his activities as a for-profit business, using the money raised to cover the direct expenses for his efforts with the $10 fee.
In his recent trip through Utah down to Price, Chamberlain stopped at the Idaho/Utah border and filled a large trash bag with materials he found in the area. He placed the bag against the sign's metal poles, hoping people will notice and appreciate an area that is now a little cleaner.
While he's spent thousands of miles on the road going from state to state, Chamberlain said the work has been worth it by meeting people and helping spread an idea he believes in across the country.
"It's been a major commitment for me," Chamberlain said. "My wife just tells me that I have a very expensive hobby."
For more information about the clean-up program, contact Gary Chamberlain at FolksvilleUSA@gmail.com.