Lisa Rohmiller holds a bag of cigarette butts, candy wrappers and other trash in Douglass Park as she laughs with a new acquaintance. Rohmiller, administrative supervisor at Columbia City Utilities, and Verna Laboy, from Boone County Health and Human Services, had not met before Friday. However, the two of them were part of a large group of city workers who volunteered to clean up the city.
Operation Clean Neighborhoods returned to Columbia on Friday for the first time since COVID-19 halted the project in 2020, making it the 11th event of its kind. The clean-up began at Douglass Park and Park Avenue at 8:30 a.m. and continued on to Wilkes Boulevard.
“Unfortunately, often people’s interactions with cities can occur for reasons that are not very positive,” Rohmiller said. “This is something positive we can all do.”
The streets are lined with workers from various city departments in neon vests holding leaf blowers, scavengers and garbage bags. Sidewalks are cleaned and roads are scrubbed with a mechanical sweeper.
“…Having city employees to not only work here, but volunteer to clean up the area, reveals a lot about the culture that our mayors and leaders want for this city,” Laboy said.
Leigh Kottwitz, environmental services manager, organized this year’s cleanup. The event has more than 70 volunteer city employees, but he shares that they outnumber this number and have a record turnout.
“When you’re walking down the street and looking at your surroundings, it’s a different perspective than looking at a map or having someone call you,” says Kottwitz. “When you look at it, you just get a different feeling for the surroundings.”
Columbia residents are also offered a tire pick-up service during the event. Trash cans are placed along the road for residents to use as well.
It was the first time for volunteers because of the lull in the event, Kottwitz said. The day offers an opportunity for city workers to connect with other workers, but also residents of the area.
“We’ve all been through tough times, and it’s hard to clean up everything that needs cleaning in your life,” Rohmiller says. “If you have a little push, someone to help you get started, it’s easier to keep things in check. So I think that applies to life in a pickup in this park as well.”