Clean Memphis has tapped into two local traditions to become widely respected in its 18- month history.

One, there is the residual pride from being named one of America’s cleanest cities decades ago, a pride that drives Clean Memphis to attain that designation once again.

Two, there is the tradition of entrepreneurism in Memphis that is coming to characterize a new breed of non-profit leaders.

Because of these, Clean Memphis – still shy by months from the second anniversary of its first clean-up event – has sparked a new energy to clean up Memphis and eliminate littering.  “Our reception has been incredible,” said Executive Director Janet Boscarino.  “When we go to neighborhood meetings, they want to know how to start and how to get organized.“

In launching the new movement, Boscarino and her colleagues have learned that Memphis neighborhoods, when fighting challenges and crime, “are closely and tightly knit and they are proud of their neighborhoods.  Getting to meet and hear their stories is fun and rewarding.”

Fueled by the work of volunteers, Clean Memphis emphasizes the creation of collaborations that align neighborhood and civic resources.  As a result, it is working with organizations like City Beautiful, various neighborhood groups, elected officials like Sheriff Mark Luttrell, and corporations like FedEx and Medtronic.

The impetus for Clean Memphis came from Boscarino’s concerns when she compared the cleanliness of cities she was visiting to her hometown.  “I saw that Memphis wasn’t clean,” she said.  “It’s such a large issue and there are a lot of socio-economic issues connected, but it’s grown in ways I didn’t expect.  People are taking ownership of the problem. Having a clean city promotes civic pride.  I think we need to regain it, and we need to be proud to say we live in Memphis.”

Key to creating that ownership is Clean Memphis’ strategy of dividing the city into 31 zones “with a leader who works with churches, neighborhood leaders, businesses, schools, and others to create a team approach that guarantees that the clean-up efforts continue and are grassroots-based.”  As a result, its priority is to develop the teams in each of these zones, to plug into existing collaboratives, and to have effects on larger issues like crime and code enforcement.  As part of its priorities for 2010, Clean Memphis will expand its use of pre-trial community services workers with the goal of them working in one of the zones every Saturday.

Also, Clean Memphis is focusing on high-profile areas like downtown, Wolf River, Overton Park, and Shelby Farms.  “Working with groups like Wolf River Conservancy and corporations who want turnkey projects, employees can have a meaningful day of service to their community,” she said.  “For example, Comcast had a day of service on the Mississippi River and 150 people took part.  We use corporate teams in high-profile areas or areas where businesses are located.”  In coming months, Clean Memphis will work with a donor to plant trees to beautify highway ramps in urban neighborhoods.

Clean Memphis’ other emphasis is sustainability.  “It’s about service learning with middle school and high school kids to modify behavior over the long-term,” Boscarino said.  “It’s about being sustainable more than random acts of kindness.”

With all that Clean Memphis has accomplished before its second anniversary, it inspires confidence that it can accomplish the bold mission that it sets out for itself – “to restore our city to the cleanest city in the country.”

Previously posted on Hyde Foundation website.