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West Medford neighbors take out the trash

Members of the West Side Beautification Committee are hardly planting rose gardens and painting front doors in their efforts to make their neighborhood more livable.

Tackling everything from shopping cart return and graffiti removal to gang outreach and trash pickup, a handful of the Facebook group's 1,000 members tackled the group's first "official" cleanup effort on Saturday, dubbing it the "West Mess-ford Holiday Clean-up Event."

Randi Brock, one of the organizers of a Facebook group for the newly formed non-profit, smiled as a half-dozen neighborhood kids donned rubber gloves and hoisted rakes in chilly temperatures.

Neighbors dropped by to chat with Brock — one reporting the removal of mattresses and couches abandoned in a nearby alley and another talking of cleanup efforts down the road — while Brock's son, 10-year-old Pheonix, and other neighborhood kids filled a wheelbarrow with soggy leaves.

Brock, a transplant from Seattle who moved to the Rogue Valley 12 years ago, said she was a member of a west Medford Facebook group when she realized how many issues were going unresolved.

Now she spends her days watching for issues she can help with in west Medford, and co-administering a Facebook page for the group with Medford resident Alastair Weston. Brock said her desire to help her community began just a year ago when she and other moms would pick up trash while walking kids to school.

"It wasn't a lot but it was something. Everybody can do something, right?" she said.

"Then someone was complaining about graffiti on the Facebook page and I was like, 'Why don't you go clean it up?' Of course, they asked me the same thing because they didn't want to deal with it. I didn't want to be a hypocrite so I did it."

Slowly, week by week, copycat efforts sprung up and community members took to the Facebook page (www.facebook.com/groups/westsidebeauty).

"We didn't know if people would even join but, overnight, we had 300 right away, then 600, then over 900," Brock recalled Saturday, while pulling leaves off the end of her rake.

Along with trash pickup and graffiti patrol, which Brock is particularly known for helping control on the city's west side, the group works on a community garden near Union Park and mentors would-be gang members who have had their first brush with law enforcement.

West Medford resident Wendy Meri, who returns store carts that are abandoned in the neighborhoods, reported to Brock that she returned her 115th cart on Saturday.

Meri shrugs off any accolades and said she wished more neighbors would just "start small and do their part."

"The carts are easy. I just throw them in the back of my rig as I'm driving around town," Meri said. "Most of them it's easy to identify where they came from and it makes a big difference in my neighborhood to not have them sitting around.

"In a little over a year, I've returned over 100 carts and 100 loads of e-waste. I live here so I like to keep it beautiful and I find that everybody is so appreciative. We've had this reputation of trash everywhere and graffiti but I think we're changing everybody's perception of the west side."

Both Meri and Errin Parker applauded Brock's efforts to host Saturday's cleanup "challenge," which will continue next weekend.

Park said the philosophy of helping neighbors should be an everyday norm.

"We've done a ton of graffiti cleanup and we have helped different people with their yard work if they can't do it. We basically just try to help with anything that the community needs, which is how it should be," Parker said.

"We see so much complaining on Facebook about what's wrong with the community so several of us got together and wanted to show how easy it would be to make a difference and just do something. Everybody always would say, 'Somebody should do something' — well we're those 'somebodies.' If we don't stand up and do something, who's going to?"

Brock says efforts have multiplied beyond anything she expected.

Next weekend she hopes to see more of her neighbors outside, improving their own properties and helping their neighbors.

"The way I see it is, you can't help your neighbors if they don't know you and they can't help you either. The idea is to give people a sense of ownership in their community to make people care more," Brock said.

"It has to start somewhere and if everyone does a little bit, it all adds up in the end, right?"

Cleanup efforts from Saturday — and next Saturday, too — will be posted on the West Side Beautification page on Facebook. Neighborhoods with the most "likes" on their photos will earn prizes.

To contribute to the committee's graffiti removal and other projects, visit www.gofundme.com/westsidebeauty.

Reach Medford freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Pheonix Scott, 10, left, and Ian Keenan, 6, participate in a west Medford cleanup project near Pennsylvania Street on Saturday. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch