Everyone sees it, but many ignore it. Cigarette butts, food containers and weeds dot the streets of downtown Lynchburg.
“Lately when I go out and about downtown, the number one item people talk to me about is the appearance of our streets with so much debris out and they want the city to clean it up but there’s just more out there than our staff is capable of reaching,” Mayor Joan Foster said in a phone interview last week.
This is where the Downtown Lynchburg Association steps in, said Executive Director Ashley Kershner. The association helps fill city needs by leveraging volunteers and donations to take action, Kershner explained.
After hearing concerns from businesses and residents, the organization identified litter and maintaining green spaces as a key to maintaining the inviting atmosphere downtown.
“At the end of last year, we created the plan for this year and we thought that by getting volunteers involved and engaged with downtown, we would be able to fill that hole,” Kershner said.
The Downtown Lynchburg Association partnered with the city to create the Adopt-a-Block program, which is modeled after a similar program in Indianapolis. It gives local businesses and citizens the opportunity to “adopt” a block, which is a street section between two intersections such as Main Street between 9th and 10th streets. There are 95 blocks up for adoption.
Kershner said several downtown businesses have already adopted blocks, including Bank of the James, which has offices on Church and Main streets.
Volunteers can request a specific block to adopt when signing up for the program. If they don’t have a specific block in mind, Kershner said her team will assign volunteers to blocks with the highest need, including the Bluffwalk and newly streetscaped portions of Main and Church streets.
The Downtown Lynchburg Association will provide volunteers with a clean up kit that includes a broom, trash bags, gloves, dustpan and a litter-grabber. The city will collect the filled trash bags, according to Kershner.
When the program begins in August, volunteers must keep their block clean and weeded. They also will be responsible for identifying any graffiti that the city needs to removed and engaging business owners about improving areas in front of their stores.
Kershner said these tasks will take volunteers about four hours a month. There are no requirements for certain clean-up dates, but when the association checks the block once a month, it should be clean.
“Our number one goal and priority with this program is to create a really beautiful, clean, welcoming environment in downtown,” she explained. “We want to make sure for residents and for visitors, when they come down here, they feel like it’s a place that’s well-maintained and that people take care of it.”
Vickie Spencer, vice president and community relations officer for Bank of the James, said Adopt-a-Block is a “perfect fit” for her company.
“I think it’s good that it gives the downtown merchants an opportunity to get together for the common good of the community,” she said. “…It’s just important that we present ourselves in a [positive light] because we have a lot to offer and we want to make sure we look good.”
This community engagement is a peripheral goal of the program, Kershner said. She hopes Adopt-a-Block will help all citizens feel more engaged with the downtown revitalization.
All those who adopt a block will receive a street medallion on the curb of their block denoting their participation. The Downtown Lynchburg Association also will hold an annual volunteer appreciation event.
Foster said she looks forward to seeing the talents of city residents demonstrated in the green spaces.
“As they’re passing through, people will say, ‘This is a city that really takes care of their property. The pride in their community just emanates,’” she said.
Carrie Dungan covers Lynchburg for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5537.