Just in time for Earth Day, this cleanup brings a diverse neighborhood together

WASHINGTON — Columbia Heights Initiative executive director Brianne Dornbush puts it this way: If it’s your bedroom, you know which pile of clothes on the floor is the dirty one.

“As residents, we know where the dirt is in our neighborhood,” she said. “We walk by the trash cans that are overflowing, or the alleys that are always cluttered.”

So, the organization behind Columbia Heights Day is organizing its first neighborhood cleanup just in time for Earth Day. From 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, volunteers will comb two designated cleanup areas for trash. At 12 p.m., the Columbia Heights Initiative is holding a cookout for volunteers, both as a thank you and as a way to get to know the people in the neighborhood. You don’t have to be a Columbia Heights resident, just someone who wants to give back.

In addition to the cleanup and cookout, there’s a family-friendly happy hour on Wednesday, April 20, at The Coupe, a local bar and coffee shop. There will be an eco-friendly art project for the kids, and a local artist will be installing an art display made from recycled materials.

“Trash art,” Dornbush said. “It’s really cool.”

Dornbush said the event is just one of a number of events aimed at getting residents to mix and mingle.

“Columbia Heights is one of the most diverse, densely populated neighborhoods in the city,” she said. “There are over 32,000 people that live just in this neighborhood. How do we create opportunities for multicultural, multiethnic, multigenerational interactions?”

The grandfather of community events in the neighborhood, Columbia Heights Day, is in its 11th year. The wild success of the festival has inspired many others.

Harriet Tubman Elementary School plays host to families throughout the summer during their Friday night “Movies on the Green.” Dornbush said the Easter egg hunt last month had over 4,000 eggs, and the December tree lighting always draws a crowd.

Dornbush sees the Columbia Heights Initiative as a type of pilot program, and she hopes to expand the program to other neighborhoods.

“A lot of times people feel pretty isolated in a big city where there’s always something going on,” she said. “The whole goal of these events is to help connect people to their community.”

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