Highland Park City Manager Ghida Neukirch found part of a discarded shopping cart last month — and it wasn’t anywhere near a store.
The official joined about 80 Highland Park High School students on a Saturday to clean up stretches of the city’s beaches, bluffs and ravines. On September 29 they collected trash at Ravine Drive Beach and Millard Park to complete a Rotary Interact Club service project.
“We are passionate about serving our community and helping others,” Neukirch says. “The service project was an excellent opportunity to reinforce the importance of keeping our community and our world clean. It’s a shame that individuals discard bottles, cans, paper, plastic and other items without regard to the damage they are causing our environment.”
The teenagers worked with adults from the Rotary Club of Highland Park, which sponsors the high school’s Interact Club, to rid precious North Shore areas of litter. The youngsters embodied Rotary’s motto — “Service above self ” — all day.
“I was surprised at the amount of enthusiasm that our club had during the beach cleanup,” Rotary Interact Co-President Nathan Bay says. “Even though our club expanded this year, all of the members were very collaborative.”
The Park District of Highland Park also joined the clean-up effort. All told, Neukirch says, more than 100 people left the area significantly cleaner than they had found it.
“My favorite things about the project included bonding with the members of the club, having silly competitions and watching a bunch of high school students develop relationships with peers that they didn’t know before,” Highland Park High School teacher Matthew Nieto says. “My least favorite thing about the project was finding an excessive amount of garbage in areas that typically don’t get cleaned and thinking about the negative impact that the garbage can have on our environment.”
They competed to see who could collect the most trash, or who could find the strangest item. The strangest piece of litter might have been the partial shopping cart Neukirch discovered.
“I met new people and had a ton of fun,” the city manager says. Most fun was “getting together with Rotarians, Interact Club members, park district employees and family members for a common good.”
Rotary Club member Len Tenner praises the park district’s perennial commitment to keeping the beaches clean.
“We retrieved the hard-to-get items; there weren’t a lot of them,” Tanner says.
Bay says it wasn’t difficult to convince his classmates to show up, because the Rotary Board was persuasive when talking about service projects. The students’ excitement was contagious, he adds.
“We are thankful to have that many young individuals who want to make a difference by volunteering,” Nieto says. “I think the students took away an experience where they could bond with their peers, build relationships and have fun doing something they wouldn’t typically agree to do.”