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February 6, 2023
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Children lead environmental project in Plaza Park

‘Camp Clean-Up’ engages young residents in beautification initiative

A few months back, neighbors Maggie Contro, an 8-year-old third-grader at Daves Avenue Elementary, and Arlo Britz, a 7-year-old boy a grade below, were sweeping her home’s porch, when they realized they were doing something worth scaling.

Contro had been wanting to start some kind of club forever, so she thought, Why not get their friends together to improve a much larger area?

Fast-forward to lunchtime on Oct. 19, and a group of eager elementary students headed over to Town Plaza Park, to plant native vegetation as part of the inaugural “Camp Clean-Up” excursion.

“We have to dig a big hole to put the plant in,” Contro said. “We have to take the plant out to squeeze it to give the roots a massage.”

“—so that the roots can grow,” Monte Sereno 8-year-old Sydney Chuba chimed in.

“Camp Clean-up” is anything but a simple “walk in the park.” (Drew Penner / Los Gatan)

Violet Rizvi, 9, who’s originally from Idaho but lives in Los Gatos now, says she was excited she got to use a pickaxe.

Town of Los Gatos Park Service Officer Ethan De Groot said the initiative is a way for the children to get out of the classroom to take part in a service project.

“The whole entire purpose of today is for a group to come out and help us beautify the park,” he said. “It gets them focused on nature.”

The Town provided 25 drought-tolerant plants, while Camp Clean-Up members and their families brought gloves and tools, and donated their labor.

The Town of Los Gatos provided the native drought-resistant plants. (Drew Penner / Los Gatan)

“They get a good idea how to help out the community,” he said. “Today was fantastic.”

Emma Richards, 8, revealed she just got some great news from the parks official.

“He said in three or four months we will possibly be able to go to Bachman Park and pick up trash,” she said, adding she’s excited for the chance to make that greenspace look prettier.

Rizvi agreed.

“I think it would be fun,” she said, explaining she’s noticed lots of glass and trash at Bachman Park.

Britz reveals the secret behind how he came up with the name—simplicity.

Town of Los Gatos Park Service Officer Ethan De Groot on scene. (Drew Penner / Los Gatan)

“It’s kind of like a camp and you clean,” he said, adding he loves how so many children came out to lend a hand.

Lisa Britz, Arlo’s mother, confirms the kids developed the plan all on their own.

“They still want to put up signs around town to get more people involved,” she said. “The actual physical labor was actually much harder than I think we anticipated.”

The young environmentalists may have been a bit worn out, but their enthusiasm had not been dampered much.

“You guys did a really great job,” she praised.

De Groot said he hopes the hands-on project will encourage the children down a long-term path of volunteering.

And he was clearly wowed by the effort the kids put in.

“It really brings a sense of good faith and good hope,” he said, adding he hopes the children will be left with a positive impression, thinking, “We did this for the Town and we like helping out the Town—and making it more beautiful.”

Drew Penner
Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected]

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