By Maureen Nolan
Syracuse, NY (August 11, 2007)- Nine South Side teenagers from the Onondaga Earth Corps cleared garbage from the banks of Onondaga Creek on Friday and thereby raised more than $100 to buy trees to plant this fall. Jose Soto, 17, and Anthony Turner, 16, hatched the “trash-to-trees” concept that yielded 20 or more bags of garbage. They solicited pledges for every bag of garbage cleared out of a stretch of the creek near Brighton Avenue.
It was their charge to devise a volunteer project to close out the Earth Corps’ summer season. The corps is an urban forestry education program launched by the Southside Neighborhood Action Group and run in partnership with the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Onondaga.
Soto and Turner are among 11 young South Siders who spent 20 hours a week this summer taking inventory of trees, cleaning up yards for homeowners in need and maintaining the South Side Garden, among other work. The teens were paid for the jobs, but the finale of the summer was a volunteer community service project, and it was up to Soto and Turner to plan it.
They first thought about improving the South Side Garden but wanted to make a broader impact. They considered cleaning up four city parks but realized that was too much work to accomplish in a half-day project. Then they took a look at Onondaga Creek as it cuts through the South Side and saw a big mess. Or as Turner, who wants to be a lawyer, put it: “It’s not setting a good example as a clean and beautiful community.”
They will use the money they raised to buy trees to plant on the South Side this fall. Organizers hadn’t tallied up the final take Friday and plan to seek more donations to buy as many trees as they can. It costs $150 to $200 to plant a tree, said Gregory Michel, Extension Service urban forestry and community educator, who works with the Earth Crops.
The South Side teenagers who volunteered Friday said the program does more than educate them and beautify their neighborhood. “It just kind of crushes the stereotypes that are against us in the first place,” said Nia McKenzie, 17, a senior at Christian Brothers Academy.