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Vista Youth Shows Up to Make a Difference at the Community Clean-Up Event

VISTA — Sunday, March 26, marked the start of spring break for Vista Unified students, but that didn’t stop groups of students and families from waking up early to help clean their community.

The event was part of Gavin Newsom’s Clean California Days of Action, a statewide movement to bring people together to better their communities. Since launching in July 2021, the Clean California initiative has removed nearly 1.4 million cubic yards of litter from state highways; enough trash to fill 420 Olympic-sized swimming pools, according to CalTrans Deputy Director Ann Fox.

Senator Catherine Blakespear, who represents northern San Diego and southern Orange County, hosted the event on a chilly Sunday morning at the Vista Transit Center. During her speech, the senator talked about the importance of having pride in your community and taking action to improve your surroundings, even in minor ways.

“It’s important that we come together to have a shared sense of purpose,” Senator Blakespear said in an interview with the Telescope. “Having community events brings people together around an event that everyone agrees is an important value to the community… So having communities that we all work on together to maintain, ultimately, is the definition of community.”

The Guerrera family, elected officials, and other volunteers pose with a chalk drawing from the children attending the event. Photo credit: Cynthia Cunningham

Bringing together and highlighting the community was a significant focus during the speeches of the many elected officials present. Vista Deputy Mayor Corrina Contreras took a moment in her address to applaud the Guerrera family, who has been picking up trash in Vista every Wednesday for years.

Clean California and SanDag also made the event a space that children could enjoy. Chalk, activity books, and frisbees were available for all the youth attending. The amount of youth attending the event was so impressive that Katie Melendez, a Vista City Council Member, took a moment to acknowledge the kids and teens there.

“They are the reason we are doing this today because we want to have a clean environment for our children and a good, healthy future,” Melendez said.

Vista Unified School Board Member Cipriano Vargas also talked about today’s kids’ and teens’ impact on their communities.

“In Vista Unified School District, we have over 20,000 students across 29 school sites,” Board Member Vargas said. “We’re doing our best to educate them and make sure that we have student leaders, not just in our schools but our communities. When they see trash in our community… they’re picking that up because we’re part of a global environment.”

Vista Unified School District has also teamed up with the Black Student Union and Clean Earth 4 Kids to put up “no idling” signs, encouraging parents to shut off their cars when dropping off and picking up their kids. Alijah Rankin, a Mission Vista High School student at the event, designed the art. Alijah and his sister Alycia were also at the event to represent the NAACP Youth Council and raise awareness about how racial justice and environmental justice intersect.

“Getting people together like this to help out shows what you can accomplish by having a large group of people together to get things done,” Alijah said when asked what he believed made community events necessary.

“I hope to accomplish a better community in general,” Alycia said. “This community needs a lot of work, and we need a lot of cleaning. So coming out here and picking up trash helps a lot of people and makes us a stronger community.”

As the trash collecting began, the youth at the event set off to see who could gather the most trash. The trash collected was primarily single-use plastics such as empty Starbucks cups, cigarette butts, and trash most likely thrown from cars. The more oversized trash items picked up included old political campaign signs, a car bumper, and bags of empty food containers left at the Tesla charging stations across the street from the Sprinter station.

As the event ended, the groups and families returned with their trash to have their bags weighed. The Guerrera family collected so much trash that they used an abandoned shopping cart to return it. The bags were weighed, ranging from four pounds to 40 pounds of trash in each trash bag.

Keelan Rosario, on the right, and his family and friends collect trash around the Vista Transit Center. Photo credit: Cynthia Cunningham

Keelan Rosario, a Mission Vista High School student, brought back the heaviest bag of trash at over 70 pounds. Rosario and his family represented the NAACP Youth Council and Clean Earth 4 Kids at the event. His trash hall won him a $20 cash prize from Vista City Council Member Dan O’Donnell.

Yesenia Hernandez, an environmental systems major at the University of California San Diego, also volunteered and shared her experience in making a difference with Clean Earth 4 Kids. With the organization, she helped pass a public smoking ban in Encinitas. She said her goal for the community was to have a clean space that everyone could be proud of. She also mentioned that events like this are good, but more work must be done, and change is reliant on today’s youth.

“The laws are really what enforce everything and get people to listen and cooperate,” Hernandez said. “I’ve been going to city council meetings and talking… They’re really lacking in young people to care and show up.”

Image Sources

  • Earth is Home group photo.: Cynthia Cunningham/The Telescope | All Rights Reserved
  • Group of kids and teens collecting trash.: Cynthia Cunningham/The Telescope | All Rights Reserved
  • Guerrera family.: Cynthia Cunningham/The Telescope | All Rights Reserved

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