On a warm summer Saturday, the four Davenport Central High School students are not to be found in a backyard swimming pool or playing video games in an air-conditioned house. Instead, they are equipped with garbage bags and gloves, helping to keep downtown Davenport looking good.
"It's really fun, but everyone thinks it's gross," Central senior and team co-leader Leanna Doyle said. "But we're really making a difference."
The Central High School Environmental Club started six years ago with a few students who had grown tired of seeing recyclables end up in trash bins. So they contacted Gail Heninger, the director of Central's Talented and Gifted Program, who immediately jumped on board as their adviser.
Heninger said it began with simply separating recyclable cans and bottles in the cafeteria, but teachers were soon implementing the system in their classrooms. Custodians, wary at first, were impressed with the dedication of the students who emptied the bins every week. The group has grown to more than 40 students, with members from ranging from freshmen to seniors.
"It's definitely changed the culture of the students at Central," Heninger said. "They don't just throw things away."
Today, there are more than 50 plastic recycling bins in classrooms throughout the school, and the group takes more than 30 bags filled with cans and bottles out for recycling every week. Heninger said the group estimates that it recycles more than 50,000 items a year.
Future goals are to see the elimination of Styrofoam plates in the cafeteria and to get hand dryers installed instead of paper towel dispensers in the restrooms. The group has even begun recycling mp3 players, batteries and cell phones.
"This is a slow process, but they are making headway in raising funds, creating awareness and speaking with the involved individuals," Heninger said.
DavenportOne has called on the group to help with some of the year's biggest outdoor events, including the Red, White and Boom! event held on July Fourth weekend, the StreetFest held as part of Bix Weekend and the upcoming River Roots Live Music Festival the weekend of Aug. 21-22.
"The more hands you have out there, the better chances are of coming away from an event without litter," DavenportOne marketing director Kyle Carter said. "I think it's great that kids that age have the initiative do so something most people don't. I think they can only get better each year as the need grows."
The group shows no signs of stopping. It works closely with the Living Lands and Waters crew for its annual XStream Cleanup, MillionTrees Project and its seminars. This past spring, Heninger said the group planted more than 100 trees at Nahant Marsh.
"The students are true activists and care deeply about their school, their community and their world," Heninger said. "They truly have passion and commitment to improving not only their lives but also the lives of others."
During the Street Fest the last weekend of July, four members with garbage bags and gloves picked up trash, even during their lunch break. Outside the Subway store on 2nd Street, Doyle noticed a stray potato chip bag and rushed to get it before it could float away.
"There's been a lot of stuff on the ground, it's been pretty busy," junior and co-leader Alissa Rastenbach said. "The rain (the night before) did not help. It made everything stick."
Rastenbach said she has always been interested in the environment and would like to pursue environmental architecture after graduation from high school. Doyle wants to continue her volunteer work to better the environment at whatever college she attends. Juniors and fellow members Rachel Brandt and Scott Hamseier said deciding to join the club was easy: They recycled at home and wanted to help spread the word.
"It's a lot of fun when you start doing it," Doyle said. "It's a lifestyle and it's the simple things. Simple things make a big difference."