Students participate in Fall Clean Up to support neighbors

Brooke Pippin

Leaves pile up under a bench
Leaves pile up under a bench Nov.10. (Devin Cornelius | The Collegian)

Fall Clean Up, a program through which students can volunteer to help Fort Collins residents with outdoor work, occurred on Saturday. 

“The goal of this event is to help prepare elderly neighbors’ yards for winter, including raking leaves and cleaning their gutters,” said Kate Phillips, a first-year economics student at Colorado State University. “A lot of them can’t do it themselves or have no family members to help them, so this activity is important for the surrounding neighborhoods.” 

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Phillips, who participated for the first time this year, said she spotted a poster in her residence hall, signed up online and gathered a group of six people to join her. She then attended a training session and contacted the neighbor to whom her group was assigned. 

“I just moved from Arizona, where I’ve lived my whole life, and we don’t have seasons like Colorado does,” Phillips said. “I’ve never had the opportunity to rake leaves for other people, and I wanted to get to know the people that live around our campus.” 

Some of the students involved said this is a way to be part of the community and connect with Fort Collins residents outside of CSU.

“I think it’s important to create connections between students and the city because the city is our source of fun, entertainment and housing,” said Brittani Meis, a second-year soil and crop sciences student. “The people of Fort Collins …  supply us with these services.”

Meis added that the process was simple, and her group received necessary supplies and a packet that included a timeline and list of all tasks that needed to be completed.

According to Lindsay Mason, director of Off-Campus Life, this is a mutually beneficial program.

“I think it’s helpful for anyone who’s never maintained their own yard, which is true not for all but many students,” Mason said. “If students are out in the neighborhoods, maybe at a party or gathering, they can stop and think about how they may be impacting their neighbor.”

“For the volunteers, this may just be one day, but for the neighbors, they think about this all year.” – Lindsay Mason, director of Off-Campus Life

Throughout this process, students may also develop bonds with their neighbors. If it’s possible, the program attempts to repeatedly match the same volunteers with the same resident. Mason mentioned a past sorority group who volunteered for years with Fall Clean Up and even invited their assigned neighbor out to weddings for several of the women.

“I would say my favorite part is the neighbor and student connection,” Mason said. “This program is a good reminder to our neighbors: Our students want to get to know you; they want to have a positive impact. It reminds neighbors why it’s great to live near CSU students.” 

Meis said meeting with her neighbor and learning about her experiences on Saturday was a touching experience.

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“She has been living there since 1960 and doesn’t want to sell her house because she cannot afford it,” Meis said. “However, she is getting older and cannot take care of her yard as much. It was rewarding to hear her story and how grateful she was for our assistance.” 

Phillips’ group agreed they were surprised by the amount of leaves on the ground but that the weather was nice and they enjoyed themselves. Armed with gloves and a rake, they gathered around 17 bags of leaves for their neighbor, who invited them inside after they finished up.

The event couldn’t take place in 2020, and this year’s number of participating neighbors dropped due to COVID-19 concerns, Mason said, but the program has grown significantly since its establishment in 2005. According to the Fall Clean Up website, about 50 student volunteers helped 24 neighbors in 2005. This year, approximately 2,200 volunteers participated in helping clean 230 neighbors’ yards, Mason said.

“For the volunteers, this may just be one day, but for the neighbors, they think about this all year,” Mason said. “They call me months in advance — they are excited and don’t want to miss sign-up. It’s more than just a day for the neighbors, it’s significant for them. I always want to express my deep appreciation for the volunteers.” 

Reach Brooke Pippin at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @BrookePippin00.