Prominent among the crowd – that gathered at the University Area Community Center for breakfast and a pep rally prior to heading out to spruce up area neighborhoods – were representatives from various service-oriented organizations, including hundreds of students from the University of South Florida.
Some trimmed trees, thinned out overgrown shrubbery and pulled weeds while others collected litter on the sides of streets, tended to the UACDC's Community Garden and retrieved discarded items from an adjacent pond.
Still bands of other do-gooders painted a mural on the exterior of the area's projected Harvest Hope Food Center next to the garden as well as the concrete flooring in a pavilion abutting Mort Park.
When the day was done, Tampa code enforcement officials carted away 20 tons of trash.
Edwardo Spinetti, a USF senior and president of the school's Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, headed up his team of fellow society members who helped plant vegetables and remove weeds from plots in the community garden.
“We focus a lot on giving back to the community,” he said. “It's a lot of fun and we get to know new people by doing it.”
USF SHPE member Gorge Sayegh, concurred.
“Anytime you can help the community like this it also helps the environment and it helps you grow as well,” he said.
Mara Latorre, who oversees UACDC's Prodigy cultural arts program, coordinated the mural-painting project at the site of the Harvest Hope Food Center, slated for a summer opening.
“Everyone is doing a fantastic job and we feel that creating this mural will attract more people,” she said.
Sara Combs, UACDC's chief operating officer, was in charge of the pond clean-up project in preparation for its transformation into a fish pond for neighbors to enjoy.
“We'll sell fishing licenses and our hope is to help feed the community, the same as with the garden,” she said.
At the halfway point of the clean-up she noted that volunteers had recovered three shopping carts, eight chairs, a television, and several lone shoes.
“We also found a mannequin that scared me to death until I realized it wasn't a person,” she said.
USF Alpha Phi Alpha member Sean Brooks was assigned the task of painting Mort Park's pavilion floor. He admitted it was his first attempt at painting.
“I'm enjoying it and I like making it look more presentable,” he said.
His fraternity brother Maurice Brewton gave him a hand.
“It's nice to get this park back into shape. When you set the example then maybe the neighbors around here will follow it,” Brewton said.
Participants of USF's Relentless Dance Troupe were doing their part to spruce up the park by removing heaps of trash and a huge pile of weeds.
“I like giving back because I think we'll get a lot back in return,” said junior Teyonna Edwards.
Dan Jurman, UACDC's executive director and CEO, was delighted by the number and diversity of people who responded to the call for volunteers.
He was especially heartened by the help from area residents as well as the turnout of USF students and other young people whose normal Saturday morning routines likely include catching a couple of extra hours of sleep.
“This is one of my favorite things we do all year,” Jurman said.
Joyce McKenzie can be reached at [email protected]