Camelot Education’s Chester Upland Academy Team Member Organizes Street Cleanups, Demonstrates Civic Pride
It started as an anti-litter project on the west side of Chester. A few months later, Kristie Barnes and her co-organizers have launched Chester Sweeps. This season-long initiative attracted elected officials and dozens of volunteers and plans to expand in 2021.
Barnes—who worked on the effort with Me’Chelle Gadson, of Chester Uplifting Program, and Carol Kazeem, who runs ACEO Inc.—says community events are far more than cleaning trash and litter off the streets; they’re about demonstrating a sense of pride in the city the residents call home. “It started as an initiative targeting heavy litter near the end of June,” Barnes said. “We came together to make it happen.”
Barnes is the director of student services at Camelot Education’s Chester Upland Academy (CUA), where she helps students realize post-secondary opportunities and connects them with valuable community resources. She hosts weekly group discussions with students that include workforce development, the college application process, and best practices for SAT prep. Additionally, Barnes also runs her own nonprofit, Unapologetically Speaking.
After a successful first cleanup in June, the organizers decided to continue it the following weekend—and then again the weekend after that. “We decided to divide the city up into sections for cleanups and started with about 25 people,” Barnes said. “The idea was to get residents to hold themselves accountable for their neighborhoods and change the narrative of Chester.”
“There was just so much trash and debris around the city because of the pandemic—much more than usual,” added co-organizer Gadson, whose Chester Uplifting Program supports Chester communities through arts and culture, commerce, educational enhancements, and general goodwill. “We just felt we had to do something about it.”
The final Chester Sweeps event of the season, which included roughly 50 participants, took place on Oct. 31, followed by a fall festival and Halloween event at which participants celebrated their efforts. Throughout the 11 events, volunteers came from all over, including U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, who represents Pennsylvania’s 5th District, and other elected officials.
“The one scheduled for Halloween was extra special for the kids,” said Barnes, who noted that it was a chance for kids to have a pandemic-safe celebration. For their “Trunk Treat,” participants adorned their car trunks with Halloween decorations and put out games, treats, and finger foods.
By day, Barnes works at CUA in partnership with the Chester Upland School District. CUA operates two distinct programs for students within the school district. The first is an accelerated instructional program for students in grades 9-to-12 who are at risk of dropping out of high school. Students in this program work at an accelerated pace to earn their high school diplomas using the same standards, curricula, and third-party assessments the school district relies on. The second program within CUA is an Alternative Education for Disruptive Youth (AEDY) program, which works with students in grades 6-to-12 who have experienced disciplinary violations in their home schools. This program’s objective helps students develop coping and problem-solving skills and identify and implement solutions to help them focus on learning, so they return to their home schools with improved behavior, attendance, and academic performance.
“Ms. Barnes is very dedicated to the students of Camelot Chester as well as the city of Chester,” said Daniel Peticca, executive director of Camelot Chester. “Ms. Barnes makes herself available seven days a week and well after school hours to help support the students, whether it is with life decisions, post-secondary planning, or just to be a shoulder to lean on.”
And her work on community cleanups is expanding as well. Plans are already underway to kick off a new season of Chester Sweeps in spring 2021.
“Since the response from the volunteers and the community has been so enthusiastic, we’re going to take this initiative up next year starting in April,” said co-organizer Me’Chelle Gadson. “We can’t wait to get the second round underway. When people see initiatives like this and positive actions that continue to happen, it inspires them to get involved and put their energy and strength behind it. That’s how we can work together to make life better for everyone.”
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