Tuesday August 1, 2006
Empowered residents improve community Brightside growing after 20 years
Volunteers, donations keep city shining
CJ Article by Sheldon Shafer
The numbers are impressive: 200,000 volunteers helping clear nearly 250,000 tons of trash.
About 1.2 million daffodil bulbs, 1.1 million annuals and more than 1,500 trees planted.
Corporate sponsors pledging to keep 65 miles of local roadways litter-free. And $8 million raised for other projects to beautify Louisville.
But beyond the numbers are people such as Wilma Smith, who lives in the Heather Hills neighborhood off Brownsboro Road.
With the help of neighbors, area schoolchildren and churchgoers -- and the support of Brightside, which marks its 20th anniversary this year -- Smith said she has "planted flowers, cleaned the streets, cleaned the neighborhood and organized little rallies to get people interested in picking up litter."
Smith said she believes that a clean neighborhood is safer and improves property values. "I love Brightside," she said.
Louisville Metro Mayor Jerry Abramson touts Brightside as an example of a successful public-private partnership.
When campaigning for office in 1985, he recalled, he held meetings in 29 neighborhoods and "in every one of them, people talked about the city's not being clean, needing beautification and needing to show pride in the way we looked."
In response, in April 1986, Abramson set up what was then called Operation Brightside -- the name was simplified in 1999. It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit entity patterned after a St. Louis organization.
Brightside is designed "to empower citizens, to make it easy to get involved in bettering the community," said Cynthia Spalding Knapek, its executive director.
The agency has won numerous awards in the past 20 years, including the prestigious President's Circle of Recognition Award from Keep America Beautiful, which it received in 2004 and 2005.
Dot Wade, a 79-year-old Old Louisville resident, is among Brightside's financial backers; the agency estimates more than 1,000 people donate every year.
Wade, who is active in garden and flower clubs and has a yard full of blossoms, said she has been a Brightside volunteer since the late 1980s. She has spearheaded cleanups of her home block of Fourth Street and donated hundreds of plants, including black-eyed susans and irises.
"I travel a lot and see other cities," she said. "I want Louisville to be just as gorgeous. But it takes money and time. I walk and pick up trash daily. I may be a weirdo. But if you don't pick it up, who will?"
Every year Brightside gives away thousands of trays of flowers, as well as dozens of grants to neighborhoods for beautification projects, including money to spruce up subdivision entrances.
It oversees 13 community gardens, where "grow-your-own" plots can be rented for $5 and up. Last year, about 1,600 gardeners donated more than 12 tons of produce to local shelters for the needy.
Brightside spends about $25,000 annually for gloves, trash bags, brooms and rakes used in small-area and citywide cleanups, including one just before the Kentucky Derby.
The agency also oversees anti-litter and environmental programs in local schools. And it works with Dismas Charities, which provides inmate crews, often several times a week, to maintain about 20 large, flower-filled BrightSites in the community. Local companies and groups maintain about 150 smaller BrightSites plots.
Brightside gets about $400,000 a year in corporate donations, nearly all for specific programs. TARC, for example, provides $75,000 to a contractor Brightside oversees to keep bus shelters clean. And Brown-Forman Corp. puts up $40,000 a year to plant trees within the old city limits.
Brightside makes about $20,000 a year selling compost, and another $20,000 off a summer volleyball tournament. And it has a reserve of nearly $500,000, thanks largely to two events -- a private gala marking the end of Abramson's 13 years as mayor of the old city and the sale of Gallopalooza horses.
Knapek said the Brightside board is considering a "large-scale beautification project" and expects to develop a new strategic plan by year's end.
By Sheldon S. Shafer