As the signs of spring continue to pop up in the Niagara region, hundreds of volunteers are preparing to participate in an annual citywide cleanup event later this month.

One of the city’s teams is being led by the Rev. Lora Allen, associate pastor of Bethany Missionary Baptist Church and community coordinator of Highland Community Revitalization Committee.

Allen recently talked with the Niagara Gazette about what the annual event means for members of the community.

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QUESTION: How long has the Highland Community Revitalization Committee been involved in cleanup activities?

ANSWER: I’m going to say about eight years that I can remember. Since about 1998 we’ve been doing it on our own. I think that’s before they started the Beautify Niagara. Or if so we didn’t know about it. We just got involved with them about five or six years ago.

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Q: Have you been involved in the Beautify Niagara cleanup before?

A: Every year just about.

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Q: Where are you focusing your cleanup?

A: It’s called the Track 202 area. That’s the Highland Gardens, Center Avenue, Fairfield Grove, right over in the North End.

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Q: What do you think volunteers get out of helping a cleanup like this?

A: Unfortunately in our area, there’s a negative perception. It’s always been that way in the black community. They get to help cleanup the neighborhood, but maybe that’s a way of saying, “Hey, we’re not lazy. Just because the incomes are lower over here doesn’t mean where we live has to look bad.” I think they get some satisfaction out of that and there’s pride in keeping where you live clean.

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Q: What do you, yourself, get out of it?

A: I’ve been here in Niagara Falls all my life, so I know the people that I work with most of the time. I just have a great time doing it because we work together. One of the things that I think I enjoy the most is, I think it was last year, (Niagara Falls Police Superintendent John) Chella and a couple of the policemen, they were over on the North End by Highland and College (avenues) with some of the kids that were in the Sheriff’s work program that had to do the community service. And some of the kids told me, “Wow, Ms. Allen, it’s not too bad. I didn’t know the cops felt like that about us.” They got to see them in a different light. So just bringing the people together, saying listen, we are all one. It doesn’t matter what position we hold. We’re all one and we’re all working together for the common good of the community and the city. I like that.

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Q: In the bigger picture, does it mean anything to the people who are maybe visiting the city to see certain areas are cleaner?

A: It means everything because how many times have you went to another city and said, “Wow, this is clean.” People compare things, let’s face it. It’s human nature. We compare things. And it’s so good when they see the city, and they come in and it’s clean... You know what they said, the first impression is the only impression that you’ll ever get. So when it comes to tourism and people coming to the city for the first time — I’ve actually had people say to me, some of the bad areas in the city are better than the bad areas that they come from. So it’s not bad as they think it might be.

And then, if you get folks out there cleaning up their community... Like yesterday, I was in Lockport. I just picked up a piece of paper off the ground. I mean, I don’t clean up Lockport. But that’s one less piece of paper on the ground. So, it makes a difference when they get out there and you start to do something and you want to see it through. Especially during the summertime, you see people getting out and cleaning up without any “cleanup day.” You know, we have to have more than a cleanup day. This has to be an ongoing thing. You just can’t clean up three times a month. You have to get up on a Saturday and pick up the paper and the junk around your house or where you live. Go across the street, pick it up. Just because the city won’t do the lot. If you live next door, mow the lot. Mow the lawn.

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Q: Are you still looking for volunteers?

A: We’re always looking for volunteers. I’ll get them from anywhere. ...

The Tennessee Avenue Block Club is involved. The Highland Avenue Block Club is involved. Main Street’s involved. I’ve just had volunteers come from all over the place, and then we split up.

I mean we’re primarily on the North End. But that doesn’t mean I won’t send a group of kids from the North End downtown on Main Street, or on Cleveland Avenue on the other side of the bridge. We just work together, especially on the day that we have the Beautify Niagara because it’s a couple thousand of us all over the city. So we just work together to do what we need to do.

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Beautify Niagara will be held on April 21 and begins with a kickoff at the Seneca Niagara Casino. Anyone interested in volunteering with the Highland Community Revitalization Committee 282-2325.

For more information write to Norma Higgs of the Niagara Beautification Commission at niahigg@aol.com or the Niagara Falls Fire Department at 286-4729.

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