Phyllis Jackson was named Volunteer of the Year at the Bob Awards, an annual event of the Clean Pittsburgh Commission.
By Diana Nelson Jones Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In 2009, Phyllis Jackson was inspired to prove that her Upper Hill neighborhood was loved when she began cleaning a blighted lot across from her home on Cherokee Street. She made its maintenance her regular duty and has since organized cleanups throughout the Hill District.
At its annual Meet 'n' Greet mixer Thursday, at which about 200 people represented 40 neighborhoods, the Clean Pittsburgh Commission awarded Ms. Jackson its Volunteer of the Year award for the work she has done as a Clean Pittsburgh steward.
The commission's annual mixer at the Schenley Park ice skating lodge honors all 150 Clean Pittsburgh stewards and two neighborhoods with the most active de-littering crews with Bob Awards, named for the late Bob O'Connor, who as mayor before his death in 2006 made the semi-annual city "redd-up" one of his legacies.
Every year since 2004, a cast of thousands turns out for seasonal cleanups of hillsides, alleys, vacant lots and streets in the city and region as part of the volunteer network of Boris Weinstein, who founded Citizens Against Litter.
Mayor Tom Murphy formed the Clean Pittsburgh Commission a year later and folded those efforts into a larger network of nonprofits and city officials from public works, public safety and building inspection.
"He gave us one charge," said Mr. Weinstein, the commission's chair: " 'Think out of the box.' I think we've been doing that."
The commission has been recognizing volunteers and neighborhood efforts since 2007.
Ms. Jackson was a student at Carlow University when she began talking to an old neighbor about "the condition of the neighborhood and how it had gone down," she said. "She told me how she used to organize a cleanup of the area.
"What kind of got me started was that I had a friend whose son was shot. That motivated me to do more, to be out there, to show that people do care about the neighborhood."
She recruited others to help her pick up debris, cut weeds, rake and sweep. As part of Mr. Weinstein's network, she gets help from university students who volunteer for cleanups. She is active in two of the city's designated Redd-Up Zones and founded Clean Green Hill, an organization that organizes volunteers.
The Bob Award for Neighborhood of the Year went to Polish Hill, whose volunteers remove litter, clear dump sites, remove snow and debris from public steps, and maintain gardens and parklets on vacant lots. The Most Improved Neighborhood is the South Side Slopes, whose volunteers hold regular redd-up events that include the public steps and who maintain a community garden at Bandi Schaum Field.
"A lot of young people in the neighborhood were already involved when I got here and I got dragged into it," said Brian Oswald, a Clean Pittsburgh steward who moved to the Slopes five years ago and is now president of the Southside Slopes Neighborhood Association. "We have fun when we do our cleanups."
The group has been removing invasive weeds from South Side Park this year with help from the Student Conservation Association.
Alexis Miller, president of the Polish Hill Association, said she was "incredibly honored to accept the award" for the neighborhood. "I'm amazed at the incredible volunteers we have and the help we get from public works and other organizations. We're lucky in Pittsburgh because people help each other."
Mr. Weinstein, chair of the Clean Pittsburgh Commission, said the efforts of thousands of people regionwide has had an impact: "The streets and sidewalks are cleaner in general, absolutely."