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Veterans organizations need your help to make this Arlington creek cleanup a success

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - 1/22/2021

Jan. 22—Ever since she started the Fish Creek Cleanup Challenge in early 2019, nothing has stopped Angel Carter from finding new volunteers to pick up litter on the trail bordering Arlington and Grand Prairie. Her event was sponsored by both cities last January, turning out more than 800 people and removing 8.5 tons of trash from the creek and surrounding parks.

"Especially in today's world, it's a great event that helps bring people together in an otherwise divisive society," said Carter, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who lives in Arlington.

But, with the COVID-19 pandemic still raging throughout North Texas, Carter cannot make her usual visits to schools, churches and Girl Scout troops to promote the third annual cleanup, set for Jan. 30.

She also lost support from Grand Prairie, which pulled out of the event completely due to restrictions on in-person events, and Arlington's parks department, which cannot promise significant help due to understaffing during the pandemic.

That hasn't stopped Carter from spreading the word about how residents can make a difference at Fish Creek, which collects "massive amounts" of trash from Texas 360, Interstate 20 and local roads. She's on a mission to post flyers at every park in Arlington and as many as she can in Grand Prairie before next weekend's event, which has earned support from veterans service organizations like the Travis Manion Foundation and The Mission Continues.

"Littering is going to continue until we can change the hearts and minds of those who do it, and the only way to change the hearts of those who do it is to have people out there helping," Carter said. "I know that, by myself, I can't do it. But much like the mustard seed of faith, maybe I can just be that mustard seed that helps bring about the change."

The event, which will kick off at around 8 a.m. in Arlington'sFish Creek Neighborhood Park and Cravens Park, will observe COVID-19 regulations, including six feet of social distancing and required masks when not six feet apart. Trash bags and gloves will be provided, and participants can sign up in advance to receive a T-shirt and free meals provided by Einsteins Bros. Bagels and Chick-fil-A.

And, as organizer Lee Harbaugh is quick to point out, it shouldn't be difficult for small groups or individuals to spread out along the estimated eight miles of trail. Harbaugh, who lives near Cravens Park, once pulled a Star-Telegram distribution box out of the creek.

"Once you get going, there's so many areas to clean up and you could easily be 100 feet from the next person, so six feet is nothing," Harbaugh said. "There's a lot of people in my neighborhood that have really gotten into it, because we all share the same vision for getting that thing cleaned up, and I hope we will have quite a few people this year if the weather holds up for us."

Dion Brugger, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who leads service programs for the Travis Manion Foundation's central region, said that COVID-19 has "rightfully" slowed the flow of volunteers for in-person events.

"But at the same time, there are a number of ways that we have continued to serve and work around it," said Brugger, who has attended the cleanup for two years. "We're also empowering our veterans to pivot and continue to serve in their own way from the comfort of their home or their own community."

Beyond the environmental benefits of removing trash from DFW's water sources, Carter said service work has the power to help people living in isolation, particularly during the pandemic. She points to rising suicide and homicide rates as signs of how the coronavirus has taken its toll on veterans as well as the general public.

"People are struggling mentally, and I know that struggle, I've been there," Carter said. "But for me, I found my 'inner creek' through Fish Creek. I want other people to be motivated and find their inner creek, find how they can still feel like they're giving back and being productive and finding their purpose."

Carter wants to expand her cleanup efforts to other parks and natural areas in Dallas-Fort Worth, along with continuing her work as the Arlington service platoon leader for The Mission Continues. For now, though, Carter has her eyes set on another project: volunteering at a COVID-19 vaccine site. Her first shift was on Friday.

"I served my country, and now I continue that service to my community," Carter said. "At the end of the day, I want to know that I've made a difference. I feel like everyone wants that."


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