Cori Erwin

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — On a sunny day last month a group of Winthrop University students battled thorns, muddy embankments and discarded litter in an effort to clean up the trails and roadways around the Catawba River on the Catawba Indian Reservation.

The Winthrop Rock Climbing Club partnered with the community outreach group People Are Good and the Catawba Indian Nation for a day of community service March 23.

The Winthrop sponsored cultural event brought out roughly 25 volunteers armed with trash bags and gloves, working in teams of three, to pick up a variety of discarded bottles, cans and PVC pipes. The group also found other random items, including a ladder, a cooler and a neglected garden gnome.

The event featured speakers from the Catawba Indian Nation who sang traditional songs and spoke about the importance of the river and the environment. They also detailed the history of the the tribe, which they said dates back at least 6,000 years in the Carolinas.

“It was super successful, we had a great turnout. The cultural aspect was great and we picked up a lot of trash, so it was perfect,” said Tyler Southworth, president of the Rock Climbing Club.

By hosting the cleanup, the club surpassed its community service goal by 10 hours in its first year as an officially chartered Winthrop organization.

Caleb Sauls, founder of People Are Good, said one of the most rewarding aspects of the event was removing litter that had been abandoned for years.

“Things that had been untouched for what looked like 25 to 30 years had finally found a home in a trash bag,” said Sauls. “It’s going to be a visual difference.”

Sauls said his group is making a shift from telling people’s stories and promoting community awareness to taking action through outreach projects.

He said when Southworth pitched the idea of a river cleanup, he began doing research to find out who could benefit most from the service, which led to the partnership with the Catawba Indian Nation.

Sauls said he didn’t know what to expect on the day of the event, but he was pleasantly surprised by how many people participated.

“I was wowed by the whole thing and how engaged everybody was and enthusiastic,” he said.

“They made it fun. They made it funny. They made it interesting and people really gave it everything that they had and that was the coolest part,” said Sauls. “Everybody came together to serve something bigger than they were and I thought that was beautiful. It really proved the goodness in people.”

Southworth said the Rock Climbing Club has already started considering future community service projects.

The closest place for Winthrop students to climb outdoors is at Crowders Mountain State Park, but according to Southworth, the crevices in the rock wall are littered with discarded water bottles and trash.

The park staff doesn’t cleanup the litter, because it would require them to climb up the wall for an extended time, but Southworth said he thinks the club could help.

“Our next idea, which I’ve had for a while also, is to do a climb and clean. So we’ll take the organization members outside, possibly their first time climbing outdoors, and while we’re there we’ll also clean up those plastics that are hard to reach,” he said.

Southworth said he also hopes to do another river cleanup next year.

“Doing things like this is much easier than people think,” he said. “It took a fair amount of time to plan, as with most things that turn out well, but getting the thing started is not that difficult. All you need is a few good partners, a good foundation of people, luckily we have our club, and then just the drive to do it.”

Sauls had one final bit of advice for anyone who wants to make a change in their community.

“If you have an interest in making the world a better place it takes a lot of humility and it takes a lot of courage, because you are going to be told ‘no’ more than you’re going to be given a ‘yes,’” said Sauls. “Sometimes it just takes a determination to say ‘screw it’ and do it anyways.”