I am Melissa Towles. I am a wife, and a mom of 2. I work full time and I’m a full-time grad student studying environmental management. I love animals, science, fishing, camping, and long naps on the beach. I want to show my kids they can do anything in life that they want to do, and this motivates me to work hard in everything I do. I started Clean It Up SOMD in February of this year as a fun little side gig and I look forward to seeing where it goes!

ON YOUR PASSION:

I’ve had a love for animals starting at a young age; after being exposed to a lot of reptiles and amphibians as a child, my personal family pets, to watching countless episodes of the Irwins and Jeff Corwin on TV. These were the very first moments that inspired me. I’ve always wanted to make a difference for animals and people alike. I spent several years working at a local veterinary hospital, where I loved my hands-on experience getting to work with the animals. I spent some time working as a State Park Naturalist, which was my first exposure to working with the community in public outreach, educating about the local environment and the wildlife surrounding. I also spent several years working at the National Aquarium. I am slated to earn my Master’s in Environmental Management in 2022. My goal as an environmentalist is to help make Earth a better place for people and animals. I believe we are all connected and need to support one another to help each other survive. I believe no person or effort is too small to make a difference.

I’m hosting cleanups to make our community look and feel great. With this initiative, I’d also really like to help people think
of the bigger picture and make the connection between pollution/litter and our daily choices. Are we buying products we can use for 5 minutes or 5 years? What happens to a product after it’s fulfilled its use? When we are done with it, we may throw it away, but it doesn’t just disappear. It will probably live on the planet for another 50 to 100 years, end up on the side of the road, be eaten by an animal, or live at a landfill (if it makes it there). These are the kinds of things going through my head each time I see litter on the side of the road.

ON YOUR MOTIVATION:

I kept noticing trash in some of my favorite places in the community and I was tired of feeling like I couldn’t do anything about it. I started to notice it every time I would get in the car and drive somewhere: trash on the side of the road, in that tree, all around the parking lots. I knew I wanted to get it cleaned up, but I wasn’t going to be able to do it all by myself. I wanted to allow other people to get involved, and I’ve never really seen cleanup events take place in our area other than individuals. I was motivated to fi ll that void in our community, so I just started inviting people on Facebook, and Clean It Up SOMD was born.

ON LAUNCHING A MOVEMENT:

The experience of seeing people show up to a voluntary event that I’ve hosted to clean up other people’s trash… it’s so rewarding. I love being able to connect with like-minded people who have the same beliefs and wants for our community as I do. People who show up to these events are the do-ers, you know? We’re all really busy with families, school, work, etc. To see people who want to spend their spare time helping this cause is a special feeling. I’ve had people stop their cars and thank me on the side of the road… those are the moments that keep me going and remind me of the big picture that I get to be a part of.

One of the struggles is the beast that we’re up against, which is trash: litter, debris, junk, plastic bags, food containers, straws, cups, bottles, etc. Trash is a huge problem. It’s neverending, and I mean that literally. Sometimes, after a successful cleanup of an area, I go back and notice trash there again just days later, sometimes more than before. It can be very frustrating and discouraging, but I do my best to remember the important benefits we’ve provided and just keep going.

Sometimes, after a successful cleanup of an area, I go back and notice trash there again just days later, sometimes more than before. It can be very frustrating and discouraging, but I do my best to remember the important benefi ts we’ve provided and just keep going.

ON LESSONS LEARNED & ADVICE TO OTHERS:

Just take the first step. Start. Forget about all those negative voices in your head that are asking you “but what if…” and making excuses. We all have those thoughts of failure, but they’re just noise. Those thoughts often stop us in our tracks before we even begin. If you want it bad enough, you will find the time. People are out there who will support you. It’s just up to you to find them and the only way to do that is to get started. Also, don’t wait to perfect all the little details before you start. You’ll have time to grow and learn along the way. That first step is the hardest, but also the most important. Once you take it, the hard part is over.

ON WHAT’S NEXT?

I started this initiative in February 2021 so Clean it Up SOMD is very new. I’m excited to get the word out and get as many people involved as possible. The more who show up, the more successful the organized trash and recycling cleanups will be. I encourage others to just show up to the events, even if you can’t stay long. If you show up and only pick up one piece of litter, you’ve still made a difference and helped the mission. All of our upcoming events can be found on our Facebook and Instagram pages. The community is always welcome to suggest locations that may benefit from a community cleanup. I review all of the submissions before scheduling to ensure they’re plausible and safe for volunteers.

Follow the Clean it Up SOMD Journey

Contact: trashfreesomd@gmail.com or find them on social @cleanitupsomd