Cleaning up the community: It's complicated

PAGE – It started with a breakfast. A small group of Page citizens began discussing ideas to restore community spirit and pride. Founding member and longtime Pagite Holly Helme misses a time when neighbors talked to each other and helped when needed. She’s watched businesses leave, activities for children and adults dwindle, and a never-ending shuffle of proposals, plans and promises gather dust.

Holly’s hope rekindled after listening to newly-elected Mayor Levi Tappan’s inauguration speech. He, too, is a longtime Pagite and has watched his town change, and he has a vision to do something about it. The fresh city council, along with a new city manager who Holly says brings “new energy” to the town, inspired her and others to action. This was the birth of For Our City.

The small group of citizens meet once a month to discuss ideas, evaluate needs and make plans. Their most notable project so far is adding energy to the annual “Page Attacks Trash.” It is estimated 1,000 people participated. Holly said, “even tourists chipped in.”

The April 27 event’s impact echoed all the way to Washington D.C. This was the 39th and final time the Salt River Project would sponsor the event. Now it’s up to Page to carry the mantle or watch another part of its community spirit fade away.

Holly is concerned about the dwindling number of volunteers. It’s usually the same people who routinely chip in. There are not enough new people to fill their shoes as they age and tire. New energy is needed. Holly hopes working with the city, local churches and schools will change this.

Community improvements require human and financial resources, and that’s always a problem for small towns concerned about their future. Navajo Generating Station, the regions second largest employer, is closing with uncertain consequences for the local economy. The current city administration, like the state of Arizona, is focused on financial stability and building strong, “rainy day” reserves. There’s a tug-a-war between progress and prudence. This is where community organizations like For Our City are needed. While they might not have the financial resources for large projects, such as amphitheaters and building renovations, they can facilitate smaller projects, like decorating the city with murals and plants – or helping local businesses and organizations cleanup.

Another Way Family Bargain Center Cleanup
Communities have dark sides. The Page area is no exception. Another Way works on a different front: The organization helps abused women. The nonprofit is financed with grants, donations and proceeds from the Family Bargain Center. They’re also one of the first to feel the consequences of NGS closing. 

Executive Director Gregg Martinez estimates 80-90 percent of victims Another Way works with are Navajo women.

The Navajo Nation gets federal grants to address the problem. Until recently, part of grant had gone to Another Way. Martinez attributes the loss to the power plant and the Kayenta Coal Mine closing soon, and the Navajo Nation is redirecting the federal funds to other areas.

This reporter reached out to the Navajo Nation Division of Social Services for more insight but was told they could not comment because it was an internal matter. Pressed if it was related their relationship with Another Way, the answer was “yes.”

Family Bargain Center has a standard size dumpster for trash. Martinez says it’s emptied twice a week. It’s not enough.

In a year’s time, the lot behind the store is stacked high and filled with unusable items. These are items dropped off, but for one reason or another, can’t be sold. Martinez, while emphasizing the need for donations, said not all donations meet their standards.

Employees sort through drop-offs to determine which is useful and which is garbage. One employee commented that some people use the store as a dump, dropping off trash at the store. The cost to haul trash away is high.

The cost to empty a large construction-sized dumpster is based on weight. Martinez estimates at $125 per ton; the container holds about 10 tons, so $1,250 a load.

Holly Helme’s vision of neighbors helping neighbors comes into play again. For Our City Page came to the store Friday morning to help clean the lot. They brought the human resources, but the financial burden falls to Another Way. They pay for the trash removal.

While the effort was there, filling one construction-sized dumpster was not enough to complete the job. Back-of-napkin estimates say six or seven more dumpster loads are needed, in other words, between $7,000 and $8,000 in dumping fees. Martinez plans on getting another large dumpster next month.

These are only two of the groups and organizations trying to make the community a better place to live, one wants to brighten the community, and revive a sense of pride, while the other addresses the dark side.

For Our City wants more volunteers. When asked, Martinez who had to reduce his facilities from 32 to 12 beds because of funding, if more volunteers would help, he addressed what he sees as the root of the problem, “volunteer to spend more time with your children.”

It’s complicated.