By Jason Massad
Three months ago, local resident Griff Sims noticed that the underpass at the Brookhaven MARTA station was choked with overgrown brush, strewn with litter and serving as a haven for the homeless.
Instead of silently fuming to himself or making telephone calls to navigate what he deemed likely to be a maze of bureaucracy, Sims — as a part of a loose organization of like-minded community activists — helped clear the brush and pick up the trash at the corner of Dresden Drive and Peachtree Road.
Now, through the effort of some can-do Brookhaven residents, the underpass is covered with mulch that helps keep the weeds out and discourages vagrants from congregating there, he said. It’s not necessarily the ultimate solution, he admitted, but it’s not a glaring eyesore anymore, either.
“It has worked out pretty good. There’s some of the debris out there, but it doesn’t look as bad as it did,” said Sims, who works for a commercial real estate company and resides in Brookhaven Township, a townhome community near the station. “It’s funny – nobody notices when it looks nice, but they notice when it doesn’t.”
The MARTA station cleanup is one example of the volunteer beautification projects that Sims and Ashford Park resident Ronnie Mayer have spearheaded around North Druid Hills and down Peachtree Road to the Chamblee line.
They’ve tasked themselves with the impromptu projects for well over a year and have enjoyed volunteer labor periodically from other residents, without any real formal organization.
Perhaps their get-it-done attitude and no-nonsense approach is part of the appeal. They don’t hold meetings, they don’t coordinate a list of volunteers, and they’re not concerned about making pleading phone calls to MARTA, DeKalb County or the Georgia Department of Transportation to help them solve community problems.
They just roll out of bed early on weekends and don’t mind getting their hands dirty.
“We just want to do it,” Mayer said. “We need guys like us in Brookhaven. We need people who say, ‘I bought a house 20 years ago for $50,000 and now it’s worth $250,000 and I think I need to help out a little bit.’”
Mayer, for instance, is proud of a recent project of planting a stand of flourishing crape myrtle trees on Peachtree Road on a state right-of-way next to Oglethorpe University and in front of a funeral home.
“We need guys like us in Brookhaven. We need people who say, ‘I bought a house 20 years ago for $50,000 and now it’s worth $250,000 and I think I need to help out a little bit.’”– Ronnie Mayer, Ashford Park resident
“We borrowed them and they look real good over there,” said Mayer, who is president of the Ashford Park Homeowners Association. “We returned them to state property.”
Both Sims and Mayer notice that the good deeds produce a welcome ripple effect. For instance, the funeral home business near the new crape myrtles has expanded its landscaping services to keep the beautified right-of-way trimmed and green, Mayer said. Sims, for his part, said that residents graciously bring him water on hot days.
“People will roll down their windows and say, ‘Thanks, it looks really good,’ ” he said.
The pair could be helped in the future by organizing their efforts, say government officials. Sims said that he would welcome some standing volunteers to cut down on the workload.
Over at the Brookhaven MARTA station, for instance, MARTA officials say they supply work crews to partner with organizations across the city and in DeKalb County when blighted areas are brought to their attention.
In fact, Ryland McClendon, assistant general manager for communications and external affairs at MARTA, said the authority wants to be kept in the loop on resident-initiated projects for safety reasons and because problem areas do exist around some of the city’s stations.
“Especially in an area that creates a safety [concern] or aesthetically is not pleasing, we welcome the support of our communities,” she said.
For volunteers who are interested, Sims can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.