“This is our town and we want it clean,” said West New York Commissioner Fior D’Aliza Frias, as she started sweeping the streets adjacent to the Town Hall with a group of over 50 residents on the morning of Saturday, Sept. 17. The initiative is a program developed by the Department of Public Affairs under Commissioner Frias to create awareness about keeping the town clean and bringing the community together.
“We had too many complaints from the residents. This is an effort on both parts: the government and the residents,” Frias said, as she swept and cleaned with the help of Francisco Lugo, who has been a resident of West New York for 40 years.
“Just because I’m poor doesn’t mean that I have to be dirty.” – Margarita Guzman
Kristian Gutierrez, an 18-year-old who is a senior at West New York's Memorial High School, is the president of the Student Council.
“[I’m] helping out the community today,” he said, referring to his decision to volunteer. “When I go out to school in the mornings, the streets are dirty so we have to do something about it.”
Sheila Culhane is a teacher at the high school and she motivated students to come.
“Take pride in our town,” she cheered, as she warned students to be careful with some glass that was in the streets.
As the group of volunteers walked down Palisade Avenue, Frias approached an auto care center and asked them to remove glass and garbage in front of their business. While the volunteers continued their cleaning task, residents asked Commissioner Frias what they were all doing.
“Please follow us; it is a beautiful initiative,” she said.
Margarita Guzman has been living in West New York for 10 years. She has strong reasons to participate in this initiative.
“I’m trying to help my town, I want to see it cleaner so that the value of our houses goes up,” she said. “We can be better. If we all cooperate, we can progress as a city, and people will notice when they come visit our town. Visitors come to West New York and think that only dirty middle class and poor people live here. We want to improve things and we want to live well. Just because I’m poor doesn’t mean that I have to be dirty,” she said, as she energetically swiped the streets, motivating young people to come out of their houses to watch.
Natalicio is Margarita’s husband. Aside from participating in the clean-a-thon, he said he continuously encourages his neighbors to clean the street where they live. He threatens them when they don’t, saying he will take pictures of them.
“My neighbors walk the dogs at night so they don’t have to pick after them,” he said. “I have a dog and I make her go in my own backyard. Then I clean after her, because the backyard is part of my house. We should treat our streets like our own homes, because where there is cleanliness, there is health.”
Elisa Urrutia from Guatemala has been living for four years in West New York with her husband Manuel.
“People call me Mrs. Clean, because whenever I show up to volunteer at the town hall, I immediately ask for Windex and Ajax to clean stuff,” she said. “I live in a small place, but I keep it clean.”
Urrutia stressed the importance of teaching children at an early age the value of volunteering.
The volunteers kept sweeping the streets with a joyful spirit. Commissioner Ruben Vargas showed up afterwards with his son. Moments later, when Mayor Felix Roque arrived, the crowd cheered him up. He was still wearing scrubs because he said he had to perform spine surgery in the morning.
“I want to say thank you for your time, dedication and motivation to get out of bed on a Saturday to do what you are doing,” Mayor Roque said. “This is the face of the town, thank you for making it beautiful.”
The clean-a-thon concluded with pizza for all the volunteers, and better-looking streets.