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December 24, 2010 > Cleanup leader lauded

Cleanup leader lauded

Submitted By Johnny Ng

It started simply as a way to keep his Hayward neighborhood streets clean.

During his twice-weekly morning jog, Greg Galati, MFT, a Kaiser Permanente family therapist based at the Union City Medical Offices, would bring a grocery bag with him to pick up litter along his run. Soon, he was filling up 8 to 10 bags of garbage and his 2-3 mile run quickly became a different type of exercise.

"I would jog, stop, pick up litter, and then continue," he said.

After a few months, Galati learned about the Keep Hayward Clean & Green Task Force, a grassroots-based cleanup effort pushed by Hayward Mayor Michael Sweeney. He met with the task force director and decided to create a neighborhood volunteer team to help clean up local streets in the Glassbrook area, where he has lived for the past 10 years.

Then, during a National Night Out block party in 2009, Galati convinced four of his long-time neighbors to become part of this volunteer effort. Among his neighbors was fellow psychiatrist David Ringo.

The volunteer team started with a once per month street cleanup effort, on the first Saturday morning for two hours. They concentrated on a five-block long stretch of Huntwood Avenue. The Keep Hayward Clean & Green Task Force provided the litter grabbers and garbage bags, and later would pick up the filled garbage bags.

"We enjoyed the camaraderie and fun as we were helping to improve the look of our streets," said Galati. "But we knew more was needed because the litter quickly returned."

Six months later, Glassbrook Elementary School principal Ruben Pulido noticed a cleanup captain picking up litter from the school's lawn. They chatted and Pulido immediately thought this would be an opportunity for his students to become involved in their community and take pride in it.

In March, Galati's team and Glassbrook School partnered for the first neighborhood-wide cleanup event. Principal Pulido rallied the students on the importance of respect for themselves and their communities. More than 115 students and their families turned out for this event. They split into teams and covered almost four miles of neighborhood streets, amassing tons of garbage and debris.

"We had an amazing turnout," Galati said. "It was touching to see the sense of pride so many of us have in our neighborhood."

In early October, Galati was honored by the City of Hayward for spearheading the cleanup efforts in his neighborhood and for his active participation in the Keep Hayward Clean & Green Task Force. At the "Hero's Banquet" attended by more than 700 people, he received the prestigious Mayor's Award.

The special cleanup effort involving the families in the Grassbrook area and the students of the elementary school has now become a monthly event. Galati and his team now have 10 "Cleanup Captains" who keep their block or section of streets clean once or twice a week.

"When people see a clean street, they are less likely to litter it," he said. "We take pride in keeping out streets clean and looking good."

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