This past year, I spent my community service hours picking up trash at any local beach that I could find. You may be wondering to yourself, why would anyone go to the beach to pick up trash as that seems like such a waste of an experience at the beach? I reply with, “If no one were to pick up the trash, going to the beach would no longer become an experience that people would want to entertain.”
My first day picking up trash was at Monastery Beach in Carmel. I would be lying if I said that I enjoyed that first day picking up garbage. The truth was I was incredibly angry for multiple reasons. One, I was picking up trash at a place that is supposed to be enjoyable. Two, the amount of garbage and microplastics that had accumulated at the beach was simply enraging. I felt as if I was rewarding the behavior of those before me who left this mess for some civilian to pick up. During that four-hour segment, I picked up two full trash bags of garbage. While picking up the trash, people looked at me as if I was doing something wrong. The general public at the beach had a look of confusion, almost as if they wanted to ask, why was this 18-year-old kid spending the majority of his weekend picking up trash at the beach? The truth was I was asking myself the same question. I wasn’t sure if this was the community service project that I should have committed to. But I made a commitment to 30 hours cleaning up beaches and I was going to keep that commitment.
As I continued picking up trash from various beaches something in the community started to change. Instead of people gazing at me with looks of confusion, people began to notice me and come up to me as I was picking up trash. I received many comments about how they had seen me around the beaches and that they appreciated my actions.
But that wasn’t the only notable thing that happened. Towards the end of my time picking up garbage, I noticed that each time I went out, I returned with less and less garbage. I was puzzled as to why it was happening. I began to question whether I was doing a thorough enough job when picking up the trash. It wasn’t until one of my last couple days of going out when I saw it. Slowly I noticed more and more people picking up trash. First it was one, then two, and then four people at the beach picking up trash. This was the first time I had seen anybody besides me picking up trash at the beach. But it didn’t stop there, I noticed that families were starting to be more aware of leaving trash at the beach. Change was happening. People were taking care of the beaches as if they were their own backyards.
After concluding my beach clean-up, I pondered about the effect that this project was having on the community. This was the first time where I experienced that I could change the community just through my actions. I learned that sometimes all a problem needs is for someone to take initiative. Since I only worked at this for 30 hours, I began thinking about what would happen if I committed to this project more seriously? What would our beaches look like in a year? 5 years? Could I rally the community behind this message of picking up our beaches? I wasn’t sure, and to tell the truth, I’m still not sure what would happen if I continued.
All in all, I’m proud of the work that I did for the beaches and my community. This experience allowed me to see how much influence one person can spread over a community. I always thought that you had to have fame connected to your name to provoke real change, but I learned the only thing you need is passion for a better environment. I look forward to seeing what I–and you–can do in the future knowing that it only takes one person to make a difference in how the world is viewed. While I didn’t change the way people see the world, life, etc. I managed to grow an idea into a piece of reality. As many would know, it’s never where you start, but where you finish. Now I wouldn’t say this is the finish line, but in my opinion…it’s a pretty good start.