Early this past Sunday morning, about a dozen people from the community chose sweeping over sleeping and tackled the sidewalks and gutters of Jamaica Avenue.
This effort was spearheaded by Raquel Olivares, executive director of the Woodhaven Business Improvement District, who coordinated efforts with groups from the community and the Department of Sanitation, who were out there cleaning graffiti.
“The goal of this initiative was to send a message to the community and invite them to help us keep Jamaica Avenue clean, safe and vibrant,” Olivares said.
Sure enough, as we made our way from Dexter Court to Forest Parkway, passersby were curious what a bunch of people were doing on a hot summer morning with all those brooms. We received a lot of happy nods and thumb’s up.
“People saw what we were doing and liked what they saw,” said Stephen Forte, president of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association. “We hope more residents will volunteer to help with civic projects like this one, and even form local groups on their own blocks to clean up the neighborhood off Jamaica Avenue.”
I found it remarkable how much debris was sitting there, nearly invisible at a glance. The first block we were sweeping didn’t look that bad to me.
In fact, I wondered if it truly needed sweeping. But once you start pushing the broom, the little garbage pile consisting of wrappers and bits of plastic starts to grow.
Pretty quickly, the gutter looked clean produced a nice mound of litter that was tossed into a garbage bag. That’s one little mound of litter that won’t end up clogging our sewers and drains.
There was one item that kept popping up in our little mounds of garbage: cigarette butts, especially around the bus stops.
“We’ve seen containers for disposing cigarette butts in other places, maybe we could get some on Jamaica Avenue,” Forte said. “If we can get these on bus stops, people would have a place to throw their butts before boarding the bus or trains instead of dropping them on the ground.”
We were joined by Councilman Robert Holden, along with Kenichi Wilson (chairperson) and James McClelland (district manager) of Community Board 9, who took note of the terrible eyesore that is the northwest corner of 78th Street and Jamaica Avenue.
Ever since the roof of that building collapsed and was boarded up, it has attracted all sorts of garbage and graffiti. Sweeping that corner up was personally satisfying, but everyone agreed that it’s been years too long and the community’s patience was exhausted long ago.
But this was a day to focus on the positives and make note of the negatives to be handled later. Standing there on the corner of 78th Street and looking back towards Dexter, we could see a visible difference in the sidewalks and gutters.
It’s been a long first year for Olivares. I don’t think many people will ever know just how difficult the task ahead of her was when she first started, but she attacked the job with determination and enthusiasm.
I think a lot of people were rightfully worried what was going to happen on Jamaica Avenue when Maria Thomson passed away suddenly in January of 2018. Depending on who took over the WBID, things could have gone one way or the other.
We were extremely lucky that fate brought Raquel and Woodhaven together. Speak to her for a few moments and you’ll find out how much she loves being here in this community.
She has a good sense of which traditions need to be upheld and what areas of change we need to pursue. The Woodhaven Weekend Walk that she organized last month was a nice family event, one that will become a tradition on its own over time.
And this past weekend was a positive step towards promoting cleanliness in Woodhaven.
“It's our responsibility as a community to care for our district and offer everyone a pleasant and safe experience when walking on Jamaica Avenue,” Olivares said afterwards.
I think it’s clear that she takes that responsibility to heart. Welcome to Woodhaven, Raquel!