About 400 people braved the wind and rain Saturday morning to give back to the College Park community.
Saturday was the sixth annual Good Neighbor Day, a collaborative effort between the University of Maryland, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and the city to bring together the student and resident communities.
Programming for this year's event included a beautification effort at Hollywood Elementary School, where volunteers planted a garden and manicured the property; a food drive and sorting activity to benefit the College Park Community Food Bank; and an invasive plant species and litter cleanup in residential areas and along city streets. Locations included Edible Gardens, Campus Creek and Cherry Hill Trail.
"With the rain, the amount of people who came today is amazing," said Gloria Aparicio Blackwell, director of this university's Office of Community Engagement. "It's a matter of building this community relationship. It's about having the university not only be confined to the walls of the university — that we are connected with the surrounding community."
The projects chosen each year reflect a theme, Blackwell said — this year's theme is sustainability. Beautification sustains the city's aesthetic value, litter removal sustains its waterways, and invasive species cleanup preserves its native plant life, Blackwell said.
"English ivy, other forms of ivy, honeysuckle that comes out this time of year, it throws off the ecosystems of our waterways, of our streams," said Laura Anderson Wright, associate general counsel at this university's Office of General Counsel and an event volunteer. "We have a lot of people that come out for football and basketball and school and shopping and all of the wonderful things that are happening in College Park. … We've got to take care of our location."
The projects take people to areas of the city students never see, such as North College Park and Cherry Hill, Wright said. They also help defuse any tensions stemming from student integration in the residential areas, City Manager Scott Somers said.
"In certain neighborhoods where we have a lot of student rentals … the long-term, permanent residents aren't particularly excited about those late-night parties," Somers said. "This is a great opportunity for people to work together, get to know each other, and I think it helps the students feel more [in]vested their community, since they are residents too."
University Police had about 25 officers at the event, Maj. Ken Calvert said. Lt. Mike Leadbeter said Good Neighbor Day offers a chance for students and residents to find common ground.
"When you don't know people, you pre-judge," Leadbeter said. "We all come from our own backgrounds, you have your own thoughts about what is what. But you come here, you're standing next to somebody and you're both picking up trash together, you get to know each other and see that we're all just regular people."
The community dynamic attracted many students to the event. Sonja Hatten, a senior community health major, said an Alternative Breaks trip to a West Virginia college town made her re-evaluate how much the student population contributes to the College Park area.
"I didn't see a lot of college kids doing much for the community, and it made me think about whether we take care of our College Park community very well," Hatten said. "I sometimes don't feel that we do, so when this was sent to me, I thought … I can actually be involved with something outside of campus."
Senior community health major Kadija Kamus, who attended the event with Hatten, said she enjoyed the opportunity to go outside the "UMD bubble."
"I expected a little bit more community members to come, but this is a good turnout," Kamus said.