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Spotlight on Walden // Oct 19, 2012

Clearing a Path and Cultivating Community

For Dr. Bethe Hagens, a faculty member in the School of Public Policy and Administration, October’s Global Day of Service was only a continuation of a long-term project: sustaining the identity of Creek Corner, an area in her Maine neighborhood where generations of families have grown up together over the past 100 years.

While the focus on removing glass and debris from a path connecting neighbors’ homes really came together this fall, a community cleanup effort had already been brewing. In the mid-1990s, when Dr. Hagens first moved into the neighborhood, she joined others in searching for “buried treasure” in the area behind her house that had been used for years as a refuse dump. The beautification project took off in 2011 when enough dead trees were cleared from a swampy area and neighbors suddenly had enough sunlight to grow fruits and vegetables in raised beds.

“My next-door neighbor is an artist and a gardener, and he immediately saw the potential for the land all of us had basically ignored. Soon he was out there with a front loader,”she says. “You can’t believe the change it’s made. In just a year, it’s so beautiful. We all have realized we want to reclaim and protect our little piece of the planet.” And that’s how her service project took root in the neighborhood.

Dr. Hagens explains,“This project is really about claiming that we are a community.” Now, not only do residents have a cleaner area behind their houses, they also see the value in coming together to contribute to Creek Corner, which is truly a shared-use space. “It was a leap for me to take on a project when I was already so busy with work. I had no idea how good it would be to do something tangible like this,” Dr. Hagens says. “Our friendships grew in a way that I can't articulate.”

The cleanup is an ongoing project for the neighborhood. “Our goal is to be able to walk out there barefoot.” Their ongoing commitment also has other implications. Many of the neighborhood residents are grandparents who want to share the area with their grandchildren and inspire them to live locally. “We’d like to be able to pass this along to our children so they can show their children they can be safe in this beautiful place,” she says.

Join or start a project in your community by visiting the Walden Service Network.