On a hazy Saturday morning, Gwinnett residents clad in bright yellow vests huddled together at the Centerville Community Center with a mission in mind: to take out the trash.

Many of them are members of the recently formed Come Clean Gwinnett, a Facebook group that launched in February and has since brought together 1,000 people of all ages from every corner of the county to beautify their neighborhoods.

On Saturday, about 50 people split into teams to spruce up The Promised Land, a historic Black community down the road from Snellville, and other areas as part of the Centerville Beautification Project hosted by nonprofit Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful, county officials and the Livsey family.

Members of Come Clean Gwinnett and other organizations showed up in droves, volunteering to help beautify southern portions of the county. At Saturday’s cleanup alone, volunteers gathered more than 120 bags of trash, 14 tires, other large pieces of garbage and even found a boat to be removed later, according to Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful.

Come Clean Gwinnett also organizes its own cleanup events every week like the one at The Promised Land, beautifying long stretches of road scattered with plastic wrappers, bottles and cigarette butts.

A quick scroll through the Facebook page shows members asking for help in cleaning up a littered area or sharing the trash they sporadically chose to pick up themselves. Members live in all parts of the county, organizing events from Sugar Hill to Snellville and Berkeley Lake to Dacula.

The grassroots organization led by Gwinnett residents came to fruition after Laura Hernandez, Chad Livsey, Glori Hunter, Donna Swessel and Dennis Swessel got connected at cleanup events hosted by other organizations. All sharing an interest in beautifying their neighborhoods, they made it their mission to offer a platform for the average person to call others to help them clean up the places they call home, Hernandez said.

By the group’s third week in existence, volunteers had invested nearly 100 hours of work, collecting more than 560 bags of trash and 98 tires in total, Hernandez said. Outside of resources from Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful, volunteers work without municipality funding.

“It takes a toll on a person to drive or walk by litter and blight in their community every day without doing something about it,” said Hernandez, also founder of Gwinnett Recycles. “I think the sad thing is people don’t realize they can do something about it or don’t know where to start.”

Livsey’s interest in bettering his hometown piqued when he returned from living in New York to take care of his mother who had fallen ill. After driving her to dialysis treatments, he’d spend hours picking up the litter around The Promised Land, a community where his family’s roots run deep. As he drove his mother back from her appointment, Livsey used to point out the trash he had picked up.

“She’d be ready to go, and I’d pick her up and drive back down the street, just to show her that she deserved better,” Livsey said.

In 2017, he started adopting streets through Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful’s adopt-a-road program and launched the predecessor to Come Clean Gwinnett called the Chad Livsey Project, in which he works to beautify other underserved areas in both Gwinnett and beyond, he said.

“She passed a little before I got my first (road adoption) sign, so she didn’t get to see it,” said Livsey, holding back tears while speaking about his mother. “But she’s the reason I keep doing this.”

Schelly Marlatt, executive director of Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful, believes littering stems from a lack of knowledge about its detrimental effects.

Not only does littering harm the environment, but it has the potential to lower property values, said Shaunieka Taylor, director of community outreach for the county. County officials have observed an uptick in litter since the pandemic started, she said.

“Litter looks gross,” said Kyla Livsey-Walker, a member of Come Clean Gwinnett who participated in the most recent cleanup at The Promised Land. “I’m a real estate agent, so I’m always looking at communities and I take pride in mine. People need to be held accountable and come together to address this issue, like what we’re doing today.”

District 3 Board of Commissioner Jasper Watkins III, who helped plan Centerville’s event and picked up trash with volunteers, stressed that litter is an issue everywhere and not just in Gwinnett County. But that doesn’t mean littering deserves any less attention from government officials, he said.

Besides Watkins, the group has garnered attention from other local government officials for their work, including Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson. “A great trait of Gwinnett residents is that they love opportunities to create positive change,” Hendrickson said. “The new Come Clean Gwinnett initiative exemplifies this passion to make a difference, and I commend the organizers and volunteers who spend their time picking up litter to beautify our community.”

As a member of the Facebook group himself, Loganville Mayor Rey Martinez shared that he spent an hour filling three trash bags while on a walk down Ga. 78. It inspired Hunter, one of the co-founders, to spontaneously go out a day later and throw away trash around Loganville areas in need.

“I feel like the whole world has changed in a lot of ways, where people have become more individualistic instead of collective,” Livsey-Walker said. “Once you start bringing that community back and get people to acknowledge that these things are an issue, I feel like that can make a definite change.”

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