PATERSON, NJ- While Juan Carlos Williams Community Plaza may be one of the city’s smallest parks, its location at the bottom of the Route 19 exit makes it a focal point for vehicles entering the city every day. Now, thanks to the hard work of more than 75 volunteers, the gateway is cleaner, greener and brighter.
On Saturday, in celebration of Global Youth Service Day (GYSD), New Jersey Development Corporation (NJCDC’s) AmericaCorps program hosted a day of gardening and community service both in the plaza and on the streets surrounding it.
With the flowers starting to bloom and the sun shining, it seemed spring had finally arrived as the group gathered to begin their work that would culminate the in the collection of dozens of bags of trash, branches and other waste. Prior to starting though, NJCDC CEO Robert Guaracsi recounted the history of the once “blighted” land that was recaptured several years ago as part of the organization’s efforts to “build better places throughout Paterson.”
Guarasci would go on to the tell the crowd that as they set out to begin their service for the day they were being joined by thousands of other young people in more than 100 countries marking GYSD and collectively showing the power of young people to “make positive change.”
“Every person counts in building a better community, a better world,” Guarasci said as the volunteers scattered across the site with gloves, rakes, and trash bags in hand.
For Miguel Rodriguez, 17, Saturday marked his third annual attendance at an NJCDC GYSD event. Rodriguez, who also serves as an advisor on the Paterson Youth Council, as well as on the organization’s Street Team which volunteers to pick up trash throughout the CDC’s “Promise Neighborhood,” also recognized the importance of being a part of a global effort. By creating a connection between youth and the earth, he believed, they could “change trends” that have come from years of “dumping” and caused global warming. Their work matter, he said, because “the Earth is worth saving.”
Their efforts on a Saturday would also, he hoped, change the “slight stigma” that is too often attached to Paterson. “We are not dirty,” he said with passion. “We have great people.”
Also spending part of her Saturday cleaning the park was Yanina Figuereo, a lifelong Paterson resident in her first year of teaching at East Side High School. Like Rodriguez, Figuereo is proud of her city, and lamented the fact that some people she has met don’t have a positive reaction when she tells them she is from Paterson. Paterson, she said, has “a lot of resources,” including its historical background, and by volunteering as part of a commitment to community service her membership in the Chi Upsilon Sigma sorority has helped instill in her, as well as in her work as teacher, she hopes others will start to take more pride in the community.
“It would be nice if people cared a little bit more,” she said. “The only way to make (Paterson) better is if people give back.”