One Saturday every month, a group of volunteers gather in the streets of North Aurora. They are equipped with grabber reacher tools, gloves and large nametags. They came to clean the Colfax Corridor. They want to leave this street cleaner than when they arrived.
From Christmas trees to needles to giant televisions, Christopher Belila has seen a large amass of litter. Belila formed a team of volunteers to set about this issue. We Are A-Town is a monthly street cleaning crew who tidy up the Colfax Corridor. They meet on the last Saturday of every month. Chris plans to begin 2022 cleanups in March and end in October.
“There is nothing insurmountable.” Belila said. “The goal is to get people engaged and show that we are a community.” Belila and the volunteers from We Are A-Town received sponsorship through companies like Ace Hardware and Waste Management. WM even donated the use of a large dumpster for large item haul-offs during one of the monthly cleanups. We Are A-Town improved its ability to clean streets through theses sponsorships and linking itself with community outreach groups like the Youth Violence Prevention Program.
Belila was inspired by community leader William Gondrez, who has actively cleaned the streets of Aurora on a daily basis since 2014. On that year, he wrote a five-page proposal to the Aurora Mayor and city council concerning his idea to clean up Aurora. A number of streets in declining conditions of litter have been met by Gondrez’s efforts, including: Colfax Ave, Montview Blvd, Havana St, 16th Avenue, and 17th Avenue. He focused on the alleys and surrounding businesses, as well as the streets when cleaning them.
“It involved every department within the city to include Aurora Public Schools.” Gondrez, a teacher himself, said, “The city took on the initiative and created a beautification grant system.” Any group, no matter how small, that shows it cares can impact the entire community. Aurora knows this and the city has issued annual clean ups sponsored by the Aurora Police Department in the past. The grant system championed by William Gondrez has grown to award $60,000 a year for various projects.
Among the many volunteers who have shown up for We Are A-Town cleanups is Amy Forestieri. Amy is a USAF veteran whose efforts are two-pronged: she participates in the cleanup, and she documents these events with her photography skills. She first learned about the monthly trash pickup through the Business Arts Culture of Aurora. Forestieri and her daughter go to the monthly events for about two hours to pick up litter. At the end they visit the local businesses.
“You have to be part of the solution.” Forestieri said. Forestieri brings her daughter to the events. They play a game of who can find the “most interesting treasures”. Forestieri found a stuffed tiger tucked into a tree on one venture. In addition to cleaning the streets, Forestieri documents people on Colfax with her camera as a means to bring happiness to people facing housing security. The people she photographs are people she has known for some time and she gained their trust through participating in community events. She claims that cleaning the streets is one way she’s gained the trust of the community.
“An environment becomes healthy through cleaning it.” Forestieri said. “When people drive down to E. Colfax Ave, Aurora to volunteer their free time to pick up trash regardless of the weather,” said Forestieri, “Well, I think that’s inspiring.”
There are no shortage of ways to get involved. We Are A-Town meets the last Saturday of every month behind People’s Building (Colfax Avenue & Florence Street). Bill Gondrez is accepting volunteers for his Block Captain program.
“I know we are not going to change the world through this. But we are still going to do our part.” Belila said, “I don’t think Aurora Ward 1 has had the opportunity to show what it has.”