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Volunteers honored during Adopt-a-Highway luncheon

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

Forty-seven local organizations were recognized, Wednesday, for their efforts to keep the streets and highways of Henry County clean.

The Rotary Club of Henry County and the Henry County Chamber of Commerce held a recognition luncheon for participants in the Adopt-a-Highway/Adopt-a-Road program.

The event took place at Eagle's Landing Christian Academy in McDonough.

Kerry Arnold is the president-elect of the Henry County Rotary Club, which manages the Adopt-a-Highway program, and the chairman of the club's Adopt-a-Highway committee. He said volunteers have picked up a significant amount of trash since the program's 2005 inception.

"Each of them adopt a minimum of a one-mile stretch of highway or road in the county," said Arnold. "Four times a year, they're out there picking up trash. We average picking up about 2.2 tons of garbage at every pick-up. Multiply that times four, and we pick up close to nine tons of garbage in a year. That's a big help."

Groups which were honored at the luncheon included Eagle's Landing First Baptist Church, Wings in the Wind Motorcycle Ministries and students from Union Grove High School (UGHS).

Dottie Wise, founder of the Adopt-a-Highway program in Henry, described litter on county roads as "a quality of life issue" for those living in the area. She said litter is a "major" contributor to pollution, and praised the volunteers for taking "ownership" of their surroundings.

"Eventually, the trash gets to the streams, and pollutes your water source -- besides the visual pollution," said Wise.

"[Volunteers] feel responsible for somebody else's trash, and they feel that they need to take care of the land and take care of the community in which they live, because they want it to be a wonderful, clean place to live. It's not a lot of work, but it is hard work to pick up nasty trash on a Saturday morning. You feel good when you're finished."

Henry County Commission Chairman Elizabeth "B.J." Mathis commended the volunteers for their dedication to the road-cleanup project. Such action, she said, projects a "positive community image," and reflects the values of Henry residents.

"When we have visitors that come to Henry County, they make judgments of the county based on the appearance," Mathis said. "You just feel good about your community as a whole when you drive down the streets and they're clean and well maintained. We couldn't do it without our volunteers. Our hats are off to them."

District IV Commissioner Reid Bowman said the volunteers perform a "thankless job," and display a sense of pride in their community.

"These guys are the unsung heroes, keeping our streets and highways clean," Bowman said. "They want to have a clean community ... and they want others to have pride in their community, and show that there are things that you can do to help. Volunteering does that."

Mary Ann Hill is a member of Bethany United Methodist Church in Stockbridge, and was one of the volunteers who received a certificate of appreciation during the luncheon. A former ticket-sales worker at Philips Arena in Atlanta, she began picking up trash in her Ellenwood neighborhood five years ago, and encourages others to be more involved in keeping the streets clean.

"I just got tired of seeing all the trash on the road, and nobody caring," she said. "So I started getting out there and picking it up myself. It's funny how everybody will watch you picking up trash, honk the horn and wave. They say thank you, but I say, 'Thank me by helping me.'"

Greg Staats is an instructor in Union Grove High School's Navy JROTC program, and an Adopt-a-Highway volunteer. He said the students in his program began picking up trash last year as a way to make a positive contribution to their community.

"We found an opportunity to adopt a road in Henry County, East Lake Road, which [the high school] is on," he said. "We said, 'What better opportunity than this?' So we jumped on it. It's important to get kids involved in the community."