Project Achieve students clean local park, unify the community


By Jake Anderson, Contributor

This special section of the Gateway, which features stories on UNO students and faculty who volunteer, was submitted by  the School of Communication’s “News Writing and Reporting” students, under the supervision of Professor Kevin Warneke.

While working to clean up a park, a group of UNO students ended up unifying a neighborhood.

The volunteers responsible were from Project Achieve, a federally funded grant program for first-generation college students, said Connie Sorensen-Birk, an English Specialist at UNO and group adviser. Project Achieve is funded to serve 160 students, a relatively small number compared to other groups on campus, Sorensen-Birk said.

About 50 Project Achieve students worked for more than two years to clean up Upland Park at South 33rd and Y streets. Upland Park is popular in the surrounding community, with tennis courts, a soccer field, a water pond and fountain feature and picnic areas.

Roger Garcia, a 2010 graduate of UNO, asked Sorensen-Birk to clean up the park through Adopt a Park and the Omaha Mayor’s Office. Garcia told Sorensen-Birk that Upland Park would be a good fit for Project Achieve because it was used primarily by immigrant families.

This was important, Sorensen-Birk said, because a majority of students in Project Achieve come from similar families.

“Garcia called and said ‘Hey, you guys [Project Achieve] need to do this,'” Sorensen-Birk said.

So they did. The group met two Saturdays a month to clean up the park, a process that included spreading mulch around trees, picking up trash, and weeding. The park restoration took almost 200 hours to complete.

Marquisha Spencer, a senior at UNO, said the restoration was a major undertaking. The first two times they went, trash was everywhere, Spencer said.  But by about the third time, the community realized Project Achieve wasn’t going to give up and residents came outside to help.

“The more we came back, the less we had to do,” Spencer said. “It was like we inspired the community to make sure the park stayed clean.”

Their efforts didn’t go unnoticed. Alfred and Pebbles Jacobo invited the group to their home for a homemade chili lunch after a Saturday of work, Sorensen-Birk said.
Deibi Sibrian, a senior at UNO, said the lunch was very generous.

“It shows you when you’re doing something for the community that they themselves appreciate it,” Sibrian said.

Spencer said Project Achieve has become attached to the park and will use it for picnics now instead of always going to nearby Elmwood Park.

“I’ll drive over there with my siblings or my son, because it means something to us now,” Spencer said.