Students rescue a river as part of Penn's Year of Water

With the city skyline as a backdrop, it was a beautiful day for a stroll along the shores of the Delaware River: bright sun, low humidity. As well as discarded tires, rusted hulks of unknown machinery, bits of Styrofoam, discarded glass bottles, and even a length of decking material.

The five busloads of Penn students who walked the shoreline at Neshaminy State Park that September afternoon had come not to simply enjoy the weather and the view. They were there for the trash. To remove it and make the riverfront park a cleaner and safer place for families, joggers, bicyclists and dogs to enjoy.

This was the first service project connected to Penn’s Year of Water theme focusing on the importance of, and challenges to, maintaining the safety of our water supply. Penn Provost Vincent Price and Brian Linton, president of United By Blue, the organization that coordinated the event, greeted more than 130 volunteers at the riverside.

“It’s about finding garbage, about cleaning up our rivers,” Price said.  “It’s about doing what we can to restore some of our precious resources.” 

United By Blue provided the students latex gloves, biodegradable trash bags and motivation.  “The oceans, which are all connected to the rivers and streams that run through this region, are incredibly important to everyday life,” Linton said. “Without the blue of the oceans and rivers, there can be no green.”

Community service isn’t a new concept to Penn students. Student Eco-Reps, sporting Green Campus Partnership t-shirts, were among those volunteering. Danny Keyes, an Eco-Rep in Stouffer College House, said, “As part of the program, we try to spread awareness to the community, and we figured we have to lead by example and so we’re doing what we can to help.”

Twenty volunteers were from Harrison College House, led by its community service coordinator James Sadler.  “We’re out here for the good weather, exciting clean up and good fun.”

Another member of the Harrison contingent, Omar Kalouti of Switzerland, said he volunteered to learn more about the area.  “I’m a foreign student and I wanted to discover the area while doing something useful for the community.”

Penn’s participation in the river clean up was led by the Undergraduate Assembly, College Houses and Academic Services and student Eco-Reps.

Additional information, including how to sign up for other clean-up events scheduled through Sept. 24, is available at http://www.yearofwater.org.

Video coverage of the event is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o2WtsBIeZHQ.

Text by Julie McWilliams
Photographs by Steven Minicola